Nikia Smith Robert

Picutre of Professor Nikia Smith Robert
  • Assistant Professor
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences, Religious Studies

Contact Info

Bailey Hall, Room 308C
1440 Jayhawk Blvd.
Lawrence, KS 66045


 The Reverend Doctor Nikia Smith Robert is a nationally and internationally recognized thought-leader and speaker on the topics of mass punishment, abolition, religion, and Black motherhood. Her expertise as a womanist abolitionist scholar focuses on theological, ethical, and sociopolitical responses to the criminalization of impoverished Black motherhood. Dr. Robert’s scholarly contributions develop emancipatory interventions toward communal flourishing beyond punishment, policing, and prisons.  Dr. Robert’s research expands canonical thought in religious studies, gender, and women studies, and African(a) American/Black Studies.


Dr. Robert is the Assistant Professor of Religious Ethics and Social Justice at the University of Kansas. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Abolitionist Sanctuary. Dr. Robert has organized, mobilized, rallied, and spoken at highly visible protests against State-sponsored violence with Black Lives Matter, Until Freedom, Team Roc, the NAACP, and other activist organizations. Dr. Robert has been featured by ABC, NBC, and CBS television networks, NPR, LA Magazine, Sojourners Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, The AME Christian Recorder, and other media outlets. Dr. Robert is the recipient of the Spiritual Exemplar award sponsored by the University of Southern California. She is recognized among “Women Leading Change” by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. 


Dr. Robert has participated in a national dialogue with the White House Department of Justice under the 44th presidential administration of Barack Obama to advocate for criminal justice reform. Dr. Robert has more recently supported local policies for resentencing with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners that led to the successful passing of AB1540. Dr. Robert has also participated in the historical campaign and inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as an invited speaker for national events.


Dr. Robert completed a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Religion at Claremont School of Theology (California) with a focus on Ethics and Public Policy. She earned a Master of Divinity degree in Systematic Theology and Social Ethics from Union Theological Seminary (New York). Dr. Robert earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems and Finance from Fairfield University (Connecticut). She holds certificates from Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of South Florida Muma College of Business. Dr. Robert was awarded a Forum for Theological Education Dissertation Fellowship (FTE) and recognized as a future leader of theological education.


Dr. Robert is an ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a clinically trained healthcare chaplain with four units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Prior to the academy, Dr. Robert worked on Wall Street in Public Accounting and Investment Banking.


Dr. Robert is an active member of Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated and the illustrious Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She is a native New Yorker and enjoys sharing life with her loving husband and three children. 


You can follow Dr. Robert on Twitter @drnikiasrobert or @abolitionSNCTRY, Instagram @drnikiasrobert, Facebook @AbolitionistSanctuary, and visit her websites at,, and


Ph.D. in Ethics and Public Policy, Claremont School of Theology, 2021
Dissertation titled, “Breaking the Law When the Law Breaks Us: A Womanist Theo-ethical Approach to Public Policy and the Black C
M.A. in Ethics and Public Policy, Claremont School of Theology, 2021
M.Div in Systematic Theology and Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, 2009
Master’s Thesis Passed with Distinction titled, “Penitence, Plantation, and the Penitentiary: A Liberation Theology for Lockdown


Dr. Robert’s scholarly interests respond to the moral crisis of mass incarceration and the criminalization of impoverished Black motherhood. Her fills a lacuna in womanist religious scholarship by examining tensions between legal compliance and moral appraisals of indigent Black mothers who break the law to survive and secure quality of life against unjust social conditions. As a transdisciplinary scholar, Dr. Robert’s research uses mixed methods in womanist theological ethics, legal/moral/political philosophy, criminology, public policy, and participatory approaches. 

Research interests:

  • Black motherhood, Black experiences, and the African Diaspora
  • Womanist, Social, and Liberation Ethics
  • Constructive Theology
  • Critical Carceral Studies
  • Abolition Studies
  • Social Movements and praxis
  • Public Policy
  • Moral and Legal Philosophy
  • African Spirituality and Religions
  • Postcolonial and Decolonial Thought


My pedagogical philosophy is inspired by bell hooks, who emphasizes transgressive teaching to facilitate liberative learning experiences rooted in love and community. Similarly, the courses I design aim to help students expand boundaries, critique oppressive epistemologies, and imagine intersectional interventions that dismantle systems of domination. My teaching is also informed by training with the Inside-Out Exchange Program®, a global educational training to develop pedagogy to teach co-learners inside of prisons and outside college students. As an abolitionist teacher, I do not support punitive pedagogies, policies, or practices. To this end, I create learning communities using a care-first approach that humanizes and empowers students through restorative practices including circles, un-grading and labor-based grading, integrative course designs connecting the classroom to communities, drawing from the lived-experiences of marginalized groups as a valid source of knowledge-production, and fostering discovery, inquiry, and critical thinking with a keen sense of accountability, liberation, and social responsibility.

Teaching interests:

  • Introduction to Ethics
  • Womanist Theological Ethics
  • Legal Issues and African Americans
  • Moral Dilemmas and Black Motherhood
  • Law, Morality, and Public Policy
  • African Religions and Politics for Abolitionist Futures
  • Social Justice Movements and Abolition
  • Unlawful Salvation: Policing Perceptions of Deviance in the US Carceral State
  • Black/Africana Studies
  • Gender and Women Studies
  • Inside Out courses (at correctional facilities)

Selected Publications

Peer Review articles

The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 2023

“An Ethic of Abolition: Becoming Educational Sanctuaries”



The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School2017

Penitence, Plantation and the Penitentiary: A Liberation Theology for Lockdown America,” The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School, Vol. 12, (2017): pp. 163-201 Available in:>


Horizontes Decoloniales, 2016

“A Lingual Politic: Power and Resistance in Sacred, Secular, and Subaltern Narratives in an Age of Mass Incarceration,” Horizontes Decoloniales, Vol. 2, (2016): pp. 163–201 Available in: <>


Book Chapter in Edited Volumes 

Walking Through the Valleys (Westminster John Knox), 2022

Editors emilie townes, Stacey Floyd-Thomas, Alison P. Gise Johnson, and Angela D. Sims

Chapter Title: “Not Meant to Survive: Black Mothers Leading Beyond the Criminal Line.” 


Memberships: American Academy of Religion. Society of Christian Ethics.

Awards and Honors: Spiritual Exemplar by University of Southern California and a Woman Leading Change by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation