Willie James Jennings –– After Whiteness

Episode: Willie James Jennings joins Erin for a challenging conversation on theological education. Jennings brings a wealth of experience to the topic, drawing from his expertise as a theologian and the wisdom he gained during his years of service as Academic Dean at Duke Divinity School. Jennings has penned his valuable insights in his new book, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Eerdmans, 2020), which is the inaugural book of Eerdmans’ new series: Theological Education between the Times. If you are now, or have ever been, a student, a teacher, or an administrator, you won’t want to miss this episode.

Guest (from the publisher’s website): Willie James Jennings is associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale University Divinity School. His book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race won both the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion.
Willie is also an OnScript veteran, and you can listen to his interview on The Christian Imagination here.

Book (from the publisher’s website): After WhitenessTheological education has always been about formation: first of people, then of communities, then of the world. If we continue to promote whiteness and its related ideas of masculinity and individualism in our educational work, it will remain diseased and thwart our efforts to heal the church and the world. But if theological education aims to form people who can gather others together through border-crossing pluralism and God-drenched communion, we can begin to cultivate the radical belonging that is at the heart of God’s transformative work.

In this inaugural volume of the Theological Education between the Times series, Willie James Jennings shares the insights gained from his extensive experience in theological education, most notably as the dean of a major university’s divinity school—where he remains one of the only African Americans to have ever served in that role. He reflects on the distortions hidden in plain sight within the world of education but holds onto abundant hope for what theological education can be and how it can position itself at the front of a massive cultural shift away from white, Western cultural hegemony. This must happen through the formation of what Jennings calls erotic souls within ourselves—erotic in the sense that denotes the power and energy of authentic connection with God and our fellow human beings.

After Whiteness is for anyone who has ever questioned why theological education still matters. It is a call for Christian intellectuals to exchange isolation for intimacy and embrace their place in the crowd—just like the crowd that followed Jesus and experienced his miracles. It is part memoir, part decolonial analysis, and part poetry—a multimodal discourse that deliberately transgresses boundaries, as Jennings hopes theological education will do, too.

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3 Replies to “Willie James Jennings –– After Whiteness”

  1. Kelsey Gentry

    Such a great episode; it has made me hopeful as I consider stepping into the academic world. So… what are the chances you can share some theological institutions that are doing this well?

  2. KarlaYJohnson

    This was profoundly life-changing, and on so many levels. Thank you for giving language to the reality of “whiteness,” and how it harms us all. As a bi-racial woman in a (sometimes fraught) love relationship with the academy, it…well, it told me all about my life! Also? Hello, Dr. Heim! It was so good to hear you thriving!

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