Work on Christianity and race earns religion prize

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    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Why has Christianity, a religion based on love, failed in its attempts to heal racial division?

    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.