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Leonard Cornell McKinnis II

Profile picture for Leonard Cornell McKinnis II

Contact Information

1201 W. Nevada
Office 201
Urbana, IL
Assistant Professor


Prof. McKinnis is jointly appointed in the Department of African American Studies and the Department of Religion. He is active in the broader academy serving in leadership capacities in the American Academy of Religion (co-chair, Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the Society for the Study of Black Religion (Registrar).

Research Interests

  • African American Religion
  • Nation of Islam
  • African American New Religious Movements
  • Black Theology
  • Ethnography and Religion

Research Description

Leonard C. McKinnis is Assistant Professor of African American Religions and Black Studies. His research and teaching sits at the intersection of Black religion, Black theologies of liberation, New Religious Movements, and ethnographic approaches to the study of religion.  Prof. McKinnis’s current manuscript , Divine Blackness: Race, Religion, and Imagination Among Black Coptic Believers (NYU Press, 2023), contributes to an on-going effort to salvage the scholarly narratives of African American religion from their primary focus on mainline Protestant groups.  Moreover, this volume aims to broaden the category of African American religion; one that speaks to the multiplicity of imaginations that are part and parcel of the religious world of African Americans as they have sought to make sense of their place in the world that denied their being.  In this text, Dr. McKinnis introduces a theme that grounds his theoretical intervention: performative imagination.  He introduces performative imagination as a question: ‘What might it mean to rescue imagination from the abstract and from a world of ideas such that imagination becomes a human and religious performance?’  In this book, the question can be stated as, ‘what might it mean to imagine and perform Blackness otherwise?’ The Black Coptic Church offers the occasion to think through this question and intervention. 

Divine Blackness is the product of a 10-year ethnographic study and oral history of the Black Coptic Church, a religious movement characterized by a hybridity of Black spiritual, Black Hebrew, and Black protestant traditions rooted in Ethiopianism.  The book contemplates the intersection of religion and the construction of identity in the Black Coptic Church. Drawing upon new ethnographic research that engages the Black Coptic Church, a Great Migration new religious movement, his research considers the function of fugitive thought and “performative imagination” in the process of re-constructing Black identity.  Dr. McKinnis’ book argues for a more elastic understanding of Black religion and pursues to demonstrate how Ethiopianism performs a fugitive function in the process of identity retrieval and re-construction in the Black Coptic Church, such that the construction of an imagined homeland seeks to de-stabilize notions of the citizen.





PhD, Loyola University of Chicago 

Master of Theological Studies (MTS), Harvard University 

BS, Lewis Catholic University 


Awards and Honors

American Academy of Religion Individual Researcher Grant Award

Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grant for Researchers (on-leave, 2021)

Courses Taught

REL 134: Religion, Race, and Resistance

Additional Campus Affiliations

Assistant Professor, African American Studies
Assistant Professor, Religion

Recent Publications

McKinnis, L. C. (2023). In and Out of This World: Material and Extraterrestrial Bodies in the Nation of Islam by Stephen C. Finley (review). African American Review, 56(3), 244-245.

McKinnis, L. C. (2023). The Black Coptic Church: Race and Imagination in a new Religion. (Religion, Race, and Ethnicity). NYU Press.

Mckinnis, L. C. (2021). Review: R.K. Evans' MOVE: An American Religion. Sociology of Religion, 82(3), 385-386.

Mckinnis, L. C. (2020). Review: J. M. Barron and R. H. Williams' The Urban Church Imagined: Religion, Race, and Authenticity in the City. Journal of Religion, 100(2), 268-269.

McKinnis, L. C. (2020). I told Jesus it would be alright if he Changed My Name: Performative Imagination and Identity Construction in Black Coptic Religion. Unpublished. In American Academy of Religion

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