Why has Christianity, a religion based on love, failed in its attempts to heal racial division? The Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, winner of the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, will address that question during his sermon, "A God Who Joins," and his Grawemeyer lecture, "How Should We See Race," both of which will take place Wednesday, April 15, in Caldwell Chapel at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Jennings will deliver his sermon during the 11:30 a.m. chapel service and his Grawemeyer lecture at 7 p.m. A book signing and reception will follow the lecture.
"We are delighted to welcome Rev. Dr. Jennings to campus," said the Rev. Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell, Louisville Seminary professor of theology and faculty director of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. "His visit is an opportunity for us to engage with a leading scholar about ideas that pertain to struggles facing our world today. Rev. Dr. Jennings offers a serious critique of Christian theology, but he does so from a space of faithful commitment. He cares enough about the traditions of Christianity to look carefully at harmful patterns and call Christian communities to find a new way forward."
Jennings, an associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School, earned the 2015 Grawemeyer Award for his book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2010). The American Academy of Religion named The Christian Imagination best book for constructive theology in 2011.
His book explains how Christianity contributed to segregation and racism in America beginning in colonialism. He names broken relationships between people and land as well as rifts between Christianity and Judaism as key factors, arguing that a renewal of Christian imagination must take place to heal those divides.
"It is impossible to understand race unless you understand place - unless you understand the connection between place-centered identity and race," said Jennings in a recent interview with Marginalia Review of Books. " ... The work that has to be done is to help people step into the true story not only of America but the true story of their own existence."
Jennings' visit coincides with visits to Louisville by the other 2015 Grawemeyer Award winners, who will discuss their winning works at programs hosted by the University of Louisville through mid-April. The University of Louisville presents Grawemeyer Awards each year in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The University of Louisville and Louisville Seminary jointly give an award in religion. This year's awards are $100,000 each.
The April 15 Willie James Jennings chapel service and Grawemeyer lecture at Louisville Seminary are free and open to the public. No reservations are required and parking is free. Louisville Seminary is located at 1044 Alta Vista Road, Louisville, Kentucky, 40205. For a complete list of Grawemeyer Award recipients and a schedule of their public talks, log onto www.grawemeyer.org.