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The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race
Author: Willie James Jennings
ISBN 13: 9780300171365
ISBN 10: 300171366
Edition: N/A
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: 2011-05-17
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
List Price: $27.50

Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions?  In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained segregated societies.   A probing study of the cultural fragmentation—social, spatial, and racial—that took root in the Western mind, this book shows how Christianity has consistently forged Christian nations rather than encouraging genuine communion between disparate groups and individuals.

Weaving together the stories of Zurara, the royal chronicler of Prince Henry, the Jesuit theologian Jose de Acosta, the famed Anglican Bishop John William Colenso, and the former slave writer Olaudah Equiano, Jennings narrates a tale of loss, forgetfulness, and missed opportunities for the transformation of Christian communities.  Touching on issues of slavery, geography, Native American history, Jewish-Christian relations, literacy, and translation, he brilliantly exposes how the loss of land and the supersessionist ideas behind the Christian missionary movement are both deeply implicated in the invention of race.


Using his bold, creative, and courageous critique to imagine a truly cosmopolitan citizenship that transcends geopolitical, nationalist, ethnic, and racial boundaries, Jennings charts, with great vision, new ways of imagining ourselves, our communities, and the landscapes we inhabit.

Publishers Weekly

In one of the first books of its kind, Duke theologian Jennings attempts to put theology in conversation with contemporary discussions of cosmopolitanism and globalization. He contends that the Christian theological imagination was historically woven into the processes of colonial dominance, thus requiring other peoples and ways of life to adapt and even morph into the colonial order of things. Drawing on narratives as diverse as Bishop John William Colenso's in South Africa and the former slave writer Olaudah Equiano's, Jennings seeks to provide both a historical account of where Christian theology faltered in its imagination of society, as well as a theological account of the way in which Christians can better tell and understand the story of the life of Jesus, who took on a human life of joining, belonging, connecting, and knowing others fully. Regrettably, Jennings's important argument gets lost in jargon ("but the analyses of this condition often don't get to the heart of the constellation of generative forces that have rendered people's social performances of the Christian life collectively anemic") and tortured prose; the book too often reads like a dissertation that would have benefited from a wiser editorial hand.
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