Work on Christianity and race earns religion prize

The Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School, has earned the 2015 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for tackling that question in his book, “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.”

Jennings explains in the work how Christianity contributed to segregation and racism in America beginning in colonial times. He names broken relationships between people and land and rifts between Christianity and Judaism as key factors, arguing that a renewal of Christian imagination must take place to heal those divides.

“His book contains brilliant flashes of insight into Christianity and racial oppression,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, a Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary professor who directs the award. “He also sheds light on how Christianity has the potential to foster more just and respectful relations between religious and racial groups.”

Jennings, an ordained Baptist minister, is former associate dean of academic programs at Duke Divinity School. He maintains an active teaching and preaching ministry and has been interim pastor of several North Carolina churches.

Yale University Press published “The Christian Imagination,” his first book, in 2010. The American Academy of Religion named it best book for constructive theology in 2011.

Five Grawemeyer Award winners are being named this week. The university presents the prizes annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education and gives a religion prize jointly with the seminary.

This year’s awards are $100,000 each.




About Willie James Jennings

The Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings teaches courses in systematic theology and black church and culture studies at Duke Divinity School. His research interests include liberation theologies, cultural identities and anthropology.

He is an executive member of Scholars for the Future of North Carolina, an academic alliance working to benefit communities through scholarship, and has been closely involved in Moral Mondays, a coalition the NAACP launched in North Carolina two years ago to protest unfair treatment and discrimination in government.

A consultant for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology and the Association of Theological Schools, Jennings also takes part in cross-disciplinary academic initiatives such as University of Virginia’s Project for Lived Theology and Yale University’s Joy and Religious Traditions Project.

He has a doctor of philosophy degree from Duke University, where he received the Julian F. Abele Achievement Award for outstanding teaching and mentoring of graduate students, and a master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was a Huntington Scholar and received the Desk and Altar Award for Outstanding Seminarian.

A Grand Rapids, Mich. native, Jennings has a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College, where he was president of the Black Student Union.

He is working on two new books, one examining sexuality, climate change, land use and cultural identity from a creation doctrine perspective and another exploring the meaning of Christian education amid current public and private education funding debates.