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The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race Paperback – May 17, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300171366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300171365
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Jennings excavates the major theological issues involved as the old world encountered—violently—the new and engaged in displacement and racialization of the ‘subjugated’ peoples. At stake is a whole way of conceiving the self, the other, and the world of their mutual relations."—Miroslav Volf, Yale University
(Miroslav Volv)

“There is no study that I know of that traces with such detail, consistency, insight, historical depth and geographic spread, the links between racism, capitalism and Christian theology. A brilliant piece of work.”—Walter Mignolo, Duke University

(Walter Mignolo)

“How did Christianity become so closely identified with racial segregation and oppression? Jennings successfully addresses a question that others have taken for granted or left unanswered. This original and important book has the potential to change the way theology is done henceforth in America.”—Cheryl Sanders, Howard University

(Cheryl Sanders)

“Sensitively descriptive writing . . . This study lays out realities that must be honestly admitted.”
—Nancy Hawkins, America
(Nancy Hawkins America)

"[A] theological masterpiece."--Chris Smith, Englewood Review of Books
(Chris Smith Englewood Review of Books)

"Jennings engages broad historical sources and cultural theory in uncommonly exquisite yet accessible prose. . . . This broadly conceived study promised to reconfigure the historical understanding of race, religion, and empire in the Americas and to stimulate theological reflection on Christian-Jew relations."—S. A. Johnson, CHOICE
(S. A. Johnson CHOICE)

“[An] astounding book...Jennings’s genius carries through...A highly textured instance of theology at its best.”—Jonathan Tran, Religious Studies Review
(Jonathan Tran Religious Studies Review)

"Detailing the nooks and crannies of white supremacist Christianity, The Christian Imagination allows not only for greater sophistication when considering race and theology. It also points to possible cures to the disease so elegantly diagnosed."—Edward J. Blum, Journal of Religion
(Edward J. Blum Journal of Religion 2014-07-01) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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When I look at the cover, it was not so inviting, but as I read it, it was very good reading.
Audrey Hepburn
Reading the conclusion first in this way will help the reader to have a clearer sense of the argument that Jennings is making here.
Englewood Review of Books
To categorize this book that way is to be guilty of the theological segregation against which Jennings rails.
a theological strummer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Englewood Review of Books on July 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
[ This review originally appeared in
THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS - 30 July 2010 ]

Many culturally-attuned readers will recognize that there is something deeply wrong with Christianity in these early years of the twentieth century and most of these readers would argue that these problems are hardly new and have plagued the church for decades if not centuries. There are, of course, an abundance of books published each year that detail these shortcomings, and posit solutions for how we might repent of these sins. Few books, however, offer as broad and holistic a picture of our brokenness as Willie Jennings' new theological masterpiece, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, and even fewer books (perhaps none) can come close to the depth of Jennings' historical account of how we wound up in the mess we are in today. Jennings concisely sums up the aim of the book in his conclusion: "I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity chains of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence" (293).

Speaking of Jennings' conclusion, I would highly recommend that readers begin with this conclusion and then loop back and read the rest of the book, as the conclusion not only offers a concise and poignant vision of our disconnectedness from one another, from the land and from all creation, but also points us in the direction that we will need to go in order to recover the intimacy for which we were created.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By a theological strummer on December 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
[This review originally appeared in the Ashland Theological Journal]

Willie James Jennings, Associate Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School, claims in his book that the Christian social imagination has lost a gospel of belonging and of reaching out. Instead we have a segregated imagination of theologies, peoples, churches and nations. This impoverished social imagination has "a vision of salvation evacuated of material consequences for identity and for patterns of human belonging" (194).

Jennings cannot overstate the implications of this problem for Christianity. This is a "theological mistake" that has "reduced theology to a level of uselessness that theologians have yet to comprehend" (148). How are so many oblivious to this mistake? Because it is a mistake so large it is hard to see as it "cover[s] the horizon of modernity itself" (38). At its heart, the mistake is that the Western church has forgotten that it is a church of Gentiles. As Jennings acknowledges, this is a problem as old as Christianity itself as, "the election of Israel never significantly entered into the social imagination of the church" (254). However, it is as Gentile Christendom entered the colonial period that "the idea of an elected people became an idea without its authentic compass" (34).

Jennings skillfully outlines the extensive, interconnected and fundamental ways that, without a reliable compass, the theological responses to the New World, slavery and colonialism set a new and terrible course for the Christian social imagination. He explores in great detail the effect of the colonists' displacement of native peoples and the destruction of the theological importance of place.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barry S. on July 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm sure the book would appeal to those more theologically adept than me; but I had a hard time getting into it. He is speaking close by soon and I wanted to get an idea of his thoughts. From what I have heard, his speaking is down to earth and easy to understand. I look forward to hearing him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Arnold on November 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Challenges traditional societal thought and brings to light the reality of human condition. Great book written by an amazing man
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books on Amazon. It is unique and offers a perspective that is deeply informed and uniquely personal. Dr Jennings is a gem both in the way he has analyzed his life experiences and in the way he has thought deeply about others experiences. His understanding of humanity is worth the price of the book whether you are interested in race or not. I love the book for two reasons:
First, because race is a borderline taboo subject in some Christian circles and we have few leaders who think like Dr Jennings. If you've ever thought deeply about race (including issues like racial reconciliation) this book is like a song. But if you have never thought about race, this book is a blueprint of humanity. It is an insightful autopsy of the human condition. I find it exhilarating to my thinking about social identity and racial identity. I really loved it. This book is definitely not for everyone, but if you're a deep thinker who wants to understand deep elements of human identity this is a gem of a book. If you're interested but not sure if you want the whole enchilada you can listen to Dr Jennings give a talk on this subject matter at [...]
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