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 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.
Lilly Fellows Program Book Award (2023)
Table of Contents
Prologue: Secrets 1. Fragments 2. Designs 3. Buildings 4. Motions 5. Eros For Further Thought: Beyond the End
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.
Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Theologian Jennings (The Christian Imagination) delivers a searing critique of Western Christian divinity school training and higher education overall. . . . In the tradition of bell hooks and Paulo Freire, Jennings’s insightful indictment of the church and university will be an ideal choice for group discussion.” “An exquisite expression of faith seeking understanding, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging is a gripping testimony to the life art of attending. When the academy is not a home, but your skin, paying attention requires everything. A fearlessly candid diagnosis of the failures of the theological academy—its soul-killing cultivation of the self-sufficient man builder—Jennings’s poetic truth-telling nevertheless refuses cynicism’s surrender. After Whiteness is relentlessly hopeful . . . an incisive indictment against a white aesthetic regime, while yet a joyful proclamation of education’s wonder and holy desire for gathering . . . an intimate confession of fragility and fatigue, while bearing witness to the “rain” of divine presence that bodies may touch and taste. In his plea for religious imagination and the secret agents of ‘fragment work,’ the always-inspired Willie James Jennings accomplishes an overturning that puts life-giving theos back into theological education. Divinity school deans and seminary presidents will declare After Whiteness a prerequisite for teaching and learning that aims to be spirit-filled.” — Andrea C. White Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Praise for the TEBT series:
“At once visionary and realistic, the books in this series offer fresh, short, and very different answers to the question, ‘What is theological education for?’ Studies of that question have appeared every couple of decades and seem to assume that ‘one-size-fits-all’ answers are possible. What’s new and groundbreaking here is that a group of theological educators from a broad array of very different religious traditions address the question in conversation with one another and in light of the changing place of faith communities in contemporary culture.” — David H. Kelsey Yale Divinity School
“The authors of this series invite us into an exercise of the imagination—to let loose of the theological school models we know so well and instead craft ways that we teach and learn as if we are living in the new Jerusalem. This is daring work. Will we have the will to grasp it? I encourage you to read and see.” — Emilie M. Townes Vanderbilt University Divinity School
“I would be hard-pressed to name any other resource that even approaches this series in its visionary outlook and wide perspective on the challenges and opportunities currently facing theological education. The authors represent an unparalleled selection of leaders in theological education whose views and experiences point to different paths into the future, all leading to true excellence and relevance in theological education.” — Justo L. González author of The History of Theological Education
“At a time of massive changes in churches and theological schools, as well as in society generally, the twelve-book series Theological Education between the Times presents an indispensable resource. Many people, especially younger generations, question as never before the necessity of religious practice or even belonging to a congregation. In this new context, the repercussions for theological education are many: What adjustments must leaders make to maintain support? How can faculty modify programs to meet the demands of modern times? What message will attract prospective students? Astute theological educators from diverse backgrounds prayed together and engaged in conversations that contributed to the authorship of this lucid and compelling series intended for anyone concerned about the fate of religion in society.” — Katarina Schuth, OSF Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity
The Christian Century “Amid a profusion of stunningly dull reports about theological education, After Whiteness hums with urgency. If Barth’s Der Römerbrief was, as Karl Adam claimed, ‘a bomb that fell on the playground of the theologians,’ this book is a lightning bolt that craters the faculty lounge and the administrative wing simultaneously, upending conversations as stale as the coffee and charging life into the corpse-like hulk of theological education. It will be urgent reading for any institution that purports to care even a little about God and race.”
The Expository Times “Jennings’ vision is critical and hopeful, navigating a narrow ideological path. Ultimately, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging achieves its goal of stimulating vital conversations and offers a valuable thought-provoking contribution to current dialogues on the state and future of theological education.”
Ronald J. Feenstra in Calvin Theological Journal “Jennings offers a sobering diagnosis of the current condition of theological education and proposes a biblically grounded vision of theological education that forms people who build communities that align with the new order being brought into being by God. I hope that many who are involved in theological education will have the wisdom and the courage to follow the vision Jennings lays out in this book.”
America “A convincing analysis of the racism baked into Western theological education.”
Scottish Journal of Theology “After Whiteness will become in its own way every bit as influential as [Jennings’s] earlier and now classic, The Christian Imagination. It is in many respects an admirable sequel, but it is in other ways so much more: a heartfelt cri de coeur for a more reflective and self-aware mode of theological education; one that will enable all human beings to flourish and not primarily those racialised as white!”
Interpretation “Willie James Jennings’s remarkable work sets a high bar for this new series on theological education.”
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