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A Look Into a Living Tradition of Preaching at Duke Chapel

New website draws upon a chorus of preaching voices over the decades at Duke Chapel

Chapel Pulpit
The Duke Chapel pulpit has been held by preachers like Billy Graham, Bernice King, Howard Thurman, Phyllis Trible and Desmond Tutu.

A new online resource explores the rich and deep tradition of preaching at Duke Chapel through the expertise of Duke Divinity School faculty, research by Duke students, and the reflections of renowned preachers.

Visit Living Tradition online on the Duke Chapel website at

“Drawing on a chorus of preaching voices over the decades at Duke Chapel, Living Tradition is a dynamic teaching, learning, and research resource for ministers, seminarians, lay people, and scholars of many disciplines,” said the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke Chapel and an associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. “In addition to serving the academy and church broadly, this project also speaks to the historic and ongoing intersection of faith and learning here at Duke.”

Launched on Dec. 2, the Living Tradition webpages serve as an introduction to, and a pedagogical tool for, the Duke Chapel Recordings digital archive, hosted on the Duke Libraries website, which contains more than 3,000 videos, audio recordings and manuscripts of sermons given at Duke Chapel from 1946 to 2002.

Beginning with sermons from groundbreaking preachers such as Billy Graham, Bernice King, Howard Thurman, Phyllis Trible and Desmond Tutu, Living Tradition sets these archival sermons into the context of the present moment through interviews, selected quotations, research presentations and discussion questions.

"Living Tradition does more than preserve a pulpit's history. It brings sermons from the past into service of the present," said the Rev. Dr. Jerusha Matsen Neal, an assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. "Not only will preachers find undercelebrated gems in the collection, they will be encouraged to bring those voices into conversation with their particular contexts and questions."

Neal will give a presentation on Living Tradition at the online 2020 annual meeting of the Academy of Homiletics, which runs Dec. 3 through 5.

“Living Tradition is an exciting and distinctive addition to the wide array of current homiletical resources,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles Campbell, the emeritus James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School. “Moving beyond specific helps for the Sunday sermon, the site invites both preachers and academics to reflect deeply about preaching through critical engagement with the wisdom—and limitations—of over fifty years of sermons preached in Duke Chapel.”

Living Tradition has four sections. The Chorus of Preachers section allows newcomers to quickly get a sense of the breadth of materials in the Duke Chapel Recordings archive by highlighting notable sermons and providing recommended sermons from Duke Divinity School faculty and staff.

In Bridging Pulpit and Practice, expert preachers such as the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward, and United Methodist Church Bishop William Willimon give video interviews about how they approached difficult preaching moments at Duke Chapel.

Preaching in Time and Place features thematic research and reflection on the materials in the archive with presentations of student research findings. Finally, Sermon Resources offers a basic introduction to searching both the historic Duke Chapel Recordings archive and the ongoing archive of services and sermons on the Duke Chapel website.

All of the sections of Living Tradition will be periodically updated with additional interviews, commentary, research findings, and teaching materials.

Living Tradition is the result of collaboration among Duke Chapel, Duke Divinity School, and Duke Libraries with funding from the Lilly Endowment. Research presentations were funded by Duke’s Bass Connections and Franklin Humanities Institute. In addition to Dean Powery, Professor Neal, and Professor Campbell, others who made significant contributions to the online resource include Miriam Cho D’20, the current project coordinator for Living Tradition, and Peace Lee, a doctoral student at Duke Divinity School.