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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans

Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali, by Randal JelksEthel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali

In Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans, author Randal Jelks shows that to understand the black American experience beyond the larger narratives of enslavement, emancipation, and Black Lives Matter, we need to hear the individual stories. Drawing on his own experiences growing up as a religious African American, Jelks explores the faith stories of four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali. He examines their autobiographical writings, interviews, speeches, letters, and memorable performances to understand how each of these figures used religious faith publicly to reconcile deep personal struggles, voice their concerns for human dignity, and reinvent their public image.

In 1964, Muhammad Ali said of his decision to join the Nation of Islam: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want to be.” This sentiment, the brash assertion of individual freedom, informs and empowers each of the four personalities profiled in this book.  For them, liberation was not simply defined by material or legal wellbeing, but by a spiritual search for community and personal wholeness.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“[Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans] offers a fascinating look into the religious lives of four individuals, and Jelks also weaves his own religious narrative in and out of the stories he tells.” –  Anxious Bench

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Mormonism and White Supremacy

Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence, by Joanna BrooksAmerican Religion and The Problem of Racial Innocence

In Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence, author Joanna Brooks examines the racist traditions present in her own religion in order to bring to light the role American Christianity has played in sustaining everyday white supremacy by assuring white people of their innocence. Like most difficult subjects in Mormon history and practice, the priesthood and temple ban on Blacks has been managed carefully in LDS institutional settings with a combination of avoidance, denial, selective truth-telling, and determined silence.

To this day, churchgoing Mormons report that they hear from their fellow congregants in Sunday meetings that African-Americans are the accursed descendants of Cain whose spirits—due to their lack of spiritual mettle in a premortal existence—were destined to come to earth with a “curse” of black skin. It is often more controversial to state the truth, that the ban on the ordination of Black Mormons was a product of human racism. Like so many Christians, it is easier for Mormons to deny their racist history than to confront it head on. But now, as America begins to come to terms with the costs of white privilege to Black lives, Brooks urges a soul-searching examination for white Christians who previously presumed themselves to be innocent.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

It is one of the most trenchant and persuasive appeals to confront the history of LDS anti-black racism, past and present, and is a clarion call for academic intervention in contemporary issues.” — Benjamin E. Park, Sam Houston State University

“Dr. Joanna Brooks boldly interrogates the impact of white supremacy on American Christianity, and specifically her own formation within Mormonism. Her work offers an unabashed examination into the history of racism within the Church. This detailed exploration into how racism lives and breathes within the Latter-day Saint religion is an important read for any white American Christian. It is, in part, a spiritual awakening to confront the demons of racism within one’s religious beliefs and Joanna Brooks is willing and called to lead you into that awakening” — Rev. Dr. Fatimah Salleh, founder of A Certain Work

“Joanna Brooks frankly reminds us that white supremacy doesn’t just happen. It is created, cultivated, passed on, sanctified, then perpetuated through forgetfulness. Mormonism emerges here as the quintessential American religion, but in the unenviable mode of participating fully in the nation’s original sin of anti-black racism. This book is strong medicine without the spoonful of sugar-but precisely the kind of medicine that may help effect a cure.” — Patrick Q. Mason, Utah State University

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Black Theology and Black Power

Black Theology and Black Power 50th Anniversary Edition, by James H. Cone50th Anniversary Edition

In Black Theology and Black Power, author James Cone relates the militant struggle for liberation with the gospel message of salvation. When this book was first published in 1969, it was the first systematic presentation of Black Theology, and laid the foundations for an interpretation of Christianity from the perspective of the oppressed that retains its urgency and challenge today.

In an earlier preface to Black Theology and Black Power, Cone wrote:

“This book was my initial attempt to identify liberation as the heart of the Christian gospel and blackness as the primary mode of God’s presence. I wanted to speak on behalf of the voiceless black masses in the name of Jesus whose gospel I believed had been greatly distorted by the preaching and the theology of white churches.”

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

This text changed the lives of thousands and thousands of young brothers and sisters of all colors who were wrestling with the question: what does it mean to be Christian in a turbulent time in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy was being contested, pushed back as it were?”—Cornel West

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Race and Restoration

Race and Restoration: Churches of Christ and the Black Freedom Struggle, by Barclay KeyChurches of Christ and the Black Freedom Struggle

In Race and Restoration: Churches of Christ and the Black Freedom Struggle, author Barclay Key discusses the interracial congregations of the Churches of Christ and how they managed race relations during the Jim Crow era and subsequently adapted to the dramatic changes of the 1960s. The churches of Christ had always operated outside of the conventional racial customs in America; Because these exclusionary churches perceived themselves as the only authentic expression of Christianity, it compelled them to embrace peoples of different races, even as they succumbed to prevailing racial attitudes. Many of their congregations, even deep in the South, counted whites and blacks among their numbers.

This meant that as the civil rights movement began to challenge pervasive social views about race, Church of Christ leaders and congregants found themselves in the midst of turmoil. Key shows how the Churches of Christ can offer a unique perspective for observing how Christian fellowship and human equality intersected during this time, and how racial attitudes and practices within individual congregations elude the simple categorizations often employed by historians. Although the Churches of Christ did have a more racially diverse composition than many other denominations in the Jim Crow era, Key shows that their members were subject to many of the same aversions, prejudices, and fears of other churches of the time.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

This is a carefully written study that embraces the messiness of human life, while simultaneously maintaining a fluid, engaging style. Scholars attuned to the importance of religion as a lens for social, cultural, and political analysis will appreciate Key’s fresh insights on the complex interplay between race and faith in an understudied institution common across the American South. — Sean P. Cunningham, author of American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: God With Us

God with Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942–1976, by Ansley L. QuirosLived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942–1976

In God With Us, author Ansley Quiros examines the theological struggle over racial justice through the story of one southern town–Americus, Georgia–where ordinary Americans sought and confronted racial change in the twentieth century. Many people forget that the struggle over civil rights was not just about lunch counters, waiting rooms, or even access to the vote; it was also about Christian theology, and we can still feel its impacts today.

Since both activists and segregationists ardently claimed that God was on their side, racial issues were imbued with religious meanings from multiple theological traditions. Southerners resisted, pursued, and questioned racial change within every Christian framework they could think of, including the major white Protestant denominations, the mass meetings in black churches, and in Christian expressions of interracialism. Documenting the passion and virulence of this struggle, this book offers insight into how midcentury battles over theology and race affected the rise of the Religious Right and indeed continue to resonate deeply in American life.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

Both a compelling read and a valuable resource, God with Us is well-researched, well-written, and voluminously documented. The intersections it describes—between Koininia Farm and the surrounding community, between the SNCC and SCLC and the freedom movements in Americus and Albany, between non-violent direct action and random murder, between Clarence Jordan and Martin Luther King, Jr., —make this book a signal contribution to our understanding of the lived theologies that animated both the civil rights movement and those who rejected it.”—The Journal of Southern Religion

“This outstanding book tells a new story of the civil rights movement in southwest Georgia, inflecting the national and regional conversation with local flare. Quiros allows us to see how the bright light moments of the movement played out in ordinary lives.”Doug Thompson, Mercer University

“I grew up around Americus, and Quiros has captured something I remember well: a community in flux and the tension between neighbors over issues of race and religion. The people and scenes are vivid and the story well told. Additionally, it captures something dear to me–the power found in Christian theology.”President Jimmy Carter

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Isaac Barnes May Named Research Fellow at UVA’s Project on Lived Theology

Will Complete Book on How the Contemporary Religious Left Emphasizes Deed Over Creed

As a recent graduate of the doctoral program in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, Isaac Barnes May specializes in American religious history, specifically religion and modernity, liberal religion, and the religious left. He is particularly interested in the study of pacifism, religion and law, and how religious groups respond to the pressures of secularization. As a Project on Lived Theology research fellow this summer and during the 2020-21 academic year, May aims to turn his dissertation into a book that he hopes will reach beyond academic circles.

Mays work, God-Optional Religion in Twentieth-Century America: Quakers, Unitarians, Reconstructionist Jews, and the Crisis Over Theism, focuses on how the intellectual shift to embrace non-traditional views of God shaped the contemporary religious left, changing how that movement dealt with politics, peace activism, and race. It charts the history of an interconnected intellectual world of religious liberals—Protestants, Jews, and Humanists—who saw themselves as reluctant modernizers, struggling to preserve their communities against the corrosive forces that cultural critic Walter Lippmann dubbed the “acids of modernity.”

“Thanks to The Project on Lived Theology, I can now sharpen my research ideas and maintain an active role in the scholarly community at UVA,” said May. “I am excited to have the chance to refine my writing with the input of collaborators from the project, and work with them to think through how the historical figures in my study sought to embody their theological commitments.”

A graduate of Earlham College and Harvard Divinity School, May has contributed to The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism, and his research has been published in journals such as Peace & Change and Religions.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Defend the Sacred

Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment, by Michael D. McNallyNative American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment

In Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment, author Michael McNally explores how Native Americans have repeatedly asserted legal rights to religious freedom to protect their sacred places, practices, objects, knowledge, and ancestral remains. Unfortunately, these claims have met with little success in court because Native American communal traditions don’t fit easily into modern Western definitions of religion; in response, Native peoples have creatively turned to other legal means to safeguard what matters to them.

In addition to continuing to invoke religious freedom, Native peoples have resourcefully used the languages of cultural resources under environmental and historic preservation law; of sovereignty under treaty-based federal Indian law; and, increasingly, of Indigenous rights under international human rights law in order to protect what is theirs. This book attempts to showcase the story of Native American advocates and their struggle to protect their liberties by discussing the innovative strategies they use in order to do so.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“This book tells the story of Native Peoples’ urgent and complex struggle for religious and cultural freedoms. Michael McNally stands witness to our urgency about protecting sacred places, defending ancestors, and continuing traditional ways, especially those in danger of desecration and harm. He traces and makes understandable the complex legal barriers that impede our free exercise of traditional religions and the maze of laws we stitch together for current protections and future possibilities. I urge activists, advocates, allies, policymakers, judges, lawyers, and traditional practitioners to read this book.”—Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), President, The Morning Star Institute

Defend the Sacred is a pathbreaking work of scholarship that sets a new standard and has the potential to impact public debates around Native American religious freedom.”—Tisa Wenger, Yale University

Defend the Sacred is a very readable history of the collisions between the U.S. Constitution and Native American religious freedom. McNally demonstrates in compelling fashion that U.S. law protects other Americans better than it protects Native Americans, even when it comes to America’s most fundamental values.”—Kevin K. Washburn, Dean, University of Iowa College of Law

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left

The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, by L. Benjamin RolskyPolitics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond

In The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left, L. Benjamin Rolsky challenges the idea of an American culture war between the religious right and the secular left by examining the rise of the religious left through the story of television writer and producer Norman Lear. While Protestant conservatives have been cast as the instigators of such warfare, Rolsky examines the ways in which American liberalism has helped shape cultural conflict since the 1970s, especially through the realm of pop culture.

Lear was not necessarily known as a political figure in his time, but was spurred to found the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way in response to the rise of the religious right. Rolsky shows how prime-time television, which included works created by Lear, became a focus of political dispute and demonstrates how Lear’s emergence as an interfaith activist catalyzed ecumenical Protestants, Catholics, and Jews who were determined to push back against conservatism’s ascent. He offers engaged readings of Lear’s iconic sitcoms and published writings, considering them as an expression of what he calls the spiritual politics of the religious left. By using Lear and his shows as an example, Rolsky is able to examine the foundational roles played by popular culture, television, and media in America’s religious history.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

Rolsky demonstrates how Norman Lear, the renowned television producer of classic shows like All in the Family, offers a window into the evolution of the religious left in the 1970s and its complex relationship with the moral majority. A fascinating and intriguing history of the intersection between popular culture, religion, and American politics.”—Julian E. Zelizer, coauthor of Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974

“Benjamin Rolsky intends to prod and provoke, and he does so through his sophisticated analysis of the effect of Lear’s work. This is a strong, important, and innovative work. The framing of Lear within the ‘politics of religious liberalism,’ the explanation of the creation and workings of a mainstream Protestantism that saw itself as a sort of caretaker of the nation, and the challenging and intellectually complex thesis pursued here all highly recommend this as an important work that should draw attention, discussion, and debate.”—Paul Harvey, author of Christianity and Race in the American South: A History

“For some who have taken a hiatus from politics and religion, The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond by L. Benjamin Rolsky is a must read; a companion to the inevitable upheaval that is on the horizon. If there is one political book that you should read in 2020…it’s this one.”—Eraina Davis, Chicago Now

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An Exploration of a Groundbreaking ManThe Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an invaluable resource for those wishing to learn more about the German theologian, pastor, and resistance conspirator Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his writings. He made many contributions to different areas of theology in his lifetime, and this book helps to categorize them while also discussing the benefits and drawback of each.

The book is divided into five sections: 1) a biography, 2) a discussion of Bonhoeffer’s theology, 3) a discussion of his ethics, 4) applications of his theory in modern life, and 5) essays on resources for the contemporary study of Bonhoeffer. Each section is not just a description, but an in-depth exploration of his philosophy and his life. Featuring contributions from leading Bonhoeffer scholars, historians, theologians, and ethicists, this book surveys, assesses, and presents the field of research and debates of Bonhoeffer and his legacy, as well as of previous Bonhoeffer scholarship.

For more information on the publication, click here.

A full list of contributors includes: Victoria J. Barnett, Keith Clements, John de Gruchy, Michael P. DeJonge, Gary Dorrien, Peter Frick, Clifford Green, Tom Greggs, Barry Harvey, Stephen R. Haynes, Stefan Heuser, Matthew D. Hockenos, Christopher R. J. Holmes, Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, Mark Knight, Nico Koopman, Mark Lindsay, David J. Lose, Robin Lovin, Gerald McKenny, Jennifer M. McBride, Michael Mawson, Rachel Muers, Andreas Pangritz, Stephen J. Plant, Matthew Puffer, Christiane Tietz, Hans G. Ulrich, Reggie Williams, Ralf Wustenberg, Philip G. Ziegler, Jens Zimmermann.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Soul Liberty

Soul Liberty: The Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia, by Nicole Myers TurnerThe Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia

In Soul Liberty, Nicole Myers Turner challenges the idea of black churches as having always been politically engaged. She uses local archives and church and convention minutes to show how freedpeople in Virginia adapted strategies for pursuing the freedom of their souls to worship as they saw fit—and to participate in society completely in the evolving landscape of emancipation.

As emancipation included opportunities to purchase properties, freedpeople sought to organize the geographies that they could in favor of their religious and political agendas at the outset of Reconstruction. After freedmen obtained the right to vote, an array of black-controlled institutions increasingly became centers for political organizing on the basis of networks that mirrored those established earlier by church associations.

For more information on the publication, click here.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“A masterful exploration of post-Emancipation black religious life in Virginia. . .  A must-read for those interested in the evolution of black religious life in America.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Taking readers on the journey from the hush harbors of slavery to the great upheavals of emancipation through the Readjuster movement, Soul Liberty’s broad compass traces African Americans’ efforts to make freedom real. Illuminating the intersections of postbellum religious and political history, Turner reveals the ways black Virginians used their religious institutions to define political strategies for embracing their full citizenship rights.”—Kidada Williams, Wayne State University

“How did black Christians in the South organize themselves both religiously and politically in the wake of the Civil War? Nicole Turner’s answer to that question unfolds in a nuanced and forceful demonstration that challenges common views of black political activity in churches. Turner’s methodology combines traditional archival materials with more recent tools such as GIS mapping, reminding historians that new understandings of the past come from new ways of approaching the sources and the data.”—Mary Beth Mathews, University of Mary Washington

 

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.