Theological 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 book, 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, colonial and 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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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.