Book with insights on black politics, religion wins Grawemeyer Award

Barbara D. Savage, a professor of history and American social thought at the University of Pennsylvania, is receiving the prize for the ideas set forth in her book, “Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion,” published in 2008 by Harvard University Press.

The book introduces important new perspectives on the study of black religion and the political role of African American churches, said award director Susan Garrett.

“Besides explaining why it is misleading to speak of ‘the black church’ given the  enormous diversity among African American congregations, Savage challenges the popular belief that black churches have been prophetic and politically active throughout history,” Garrett said.

Savage also shows how black women excluded from religious leadership and the formal study of black religion became leaders outside their churches, including Nannie Helen Burroughs, who founded one of the nation’s first vocational schools for women.

A Penn faculty member since 1995, Savage teaches courses on American religious and social reform, 20th Century African American history and the relationship between media and politics. She has held administrative posts at Penn’s Center for Africana Studies and previously worked as a staff member in the U.S. Congress.

The University of Louisville presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

About Barbara D. Savage

Barbara D. Savage is Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her book, “Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion,” has been hailed as the definitive historical examination of debates about the public responsibility of black churches and the role of religion in racial leadership.

Among her other writings are “Women and Religion in the African Diaspora,” a book she co-edited in 2006, and “Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948,” a 1999 work that won the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Award for best book on American history from 1916 to 1966.

She has received fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University, Princeton University Center for the Study of Religion and New York Public Library’s  Schomburg Center on Black Culture.

Savage holds a doctorate in history from Yale University, a law degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.

She has worked for the Children’s Defense Fund and Yale University’s Office of the General Counsel and is a trustee of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, a private organization supporting research into humanity’s biological and cultural origins.

Savage is now working on a biography of Merze Tate, a professor at Howard University from 1947 to 1977 and one of the few black women academics of her generation. Savage’s ties with the Black Women’s Intellectual History Collective, a project to recover the history of black women as intellectuals, inspired the book.

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