Willie Jennings
Friday, December 5, 2014

Willie JenningsWillie James Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School, has won the prestigious 2015 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.

The Grawemeyer Award in Religion is an annual $100,000 prize that honors and promotes insights into the study of religion, specifically into the relationships between human beings and the divine, and the ways that this relationship may empower humans to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning. The award is given jointly by the University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Jennings was selected for the award for examining why Christianity has failed in its attempt to heal racial division. In the book, he explains how Christianity contributed to segregation and racism in America beginning in colonial times. Jennings 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.”

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.

An ordained Baptist minister, Jennings is the 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.

Jennings, who earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Duke University, has been on the Duke Divinity School faculty since 1990. He is also an executive member of Scholars for the Future of North Carolina, an academic alliance working to benefit communities through scholarship; a consultant for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology and for the Association of Theological Schools; and he 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.

Listen to an interview with Jennings about his work.