October 20, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 3

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    Theologians to take untraditional look at two theological traditions

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office

    For the first time on a national platform, proponents of black theology and womanist theology will unite to discuss important aspects of the future of black America at a special weeklong conference at the Divinity School.

    Organized by Dwight Hopkins, Professor of Theology in the Divinity School, and his wife, Linda Thomas, professor of theology and anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology, “Black Theology and Womanist Theology in Dialogue: Which Way Forward for the Church and the Academy,” will take place from 2 to 9:30 p.m. each day from Monday, Oct. 31 to Friday, Nov. 4.

    This groundbreaking conference will pull presenters from all over the country, including leading ministers and theologians, to critically discuss issues of religion, race, gender justice, class issues and the family.

    “We have a truly blockbuster lineup of academic theologians and clergy theologians getting together to talk in a way that has never happened before,” Hopkins said. “There are three generations of black theologians and womanist theologians speaking not only to themselves, but to the future of this nation.”

    Black theology emerged in 1966 in the African-American church in response to segregation in the white Christian community. Also called liberation theology, black theology is the belief that the core element of Christianity is liberating the people of the world from poverty and oppression, as opposed to the mainstream American Christian community which, in the 1960s, preached that the central tenet of Christianity was nonviolence. According to Hopkins, black theology is considered to be the first theology to surface outside of the academy.

    Womanist theology is a response to and critique of black theology, Thomas explained. Liberation theology is focused mostly on men, while the reality is that many African-American women are oppressed, even in the African-American church. Womanist theology calls into question the role of women in the African-American church in the hopes of empowering and giving a voice to black women.

    In this conference, half of the presenters are women and half are men, and half are ministers and half are university faculty. Representatives of both the black theology and womanist theology perspectives will present on a topic, with each participant speaking on an issue traditionally associated with the opposite side of the gender equation, followed by a response by his or her counterpart.

    “We think that transformation can happen if we immerse ourselves in the thinking and studying of a concept from a way we don’t traditionally look at things,” Thomas said.

    Topics include “Survival and Quality of Life,” “Patriarchy in the Family,” “The Black Male as an Endangered Species,” “Human Sexuality,” “Jesus the Man” and “Christ as a Woman.”

    “These are issues that play out in our own home,” Hopkins said. “These are real-world debates that will have a genuine impact on real churches.”

    Participants scheduled to speak include faculty from Georgetown University, Yale University and Vanderbilt University, as well as ministers from Saint Paul Baptist Church in the Bronx, N.Y., Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and Allen Temple Church in Oakland, Calif. The concluding speaker is James Cone, considered the foremost thinker on black theology in the country and the Charles A. Briggs distinguished professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

    The conference is funded by the Louisville Institute, sponsored by the Divinity School and the Lutheran School of Theology, and co-sponsored by the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture; the Office of Minority Student Affairs; the Office of Community and Government Affairs; and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

    The sessions will take place at various locations on the University campus and at the Lutheran School of Theology. All sessions are free and open to the public. For more information and a complete schedule of events and locations, visit http://marty-center.uchicago.edu.