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On forming people who form communion  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 On forming people who form communion  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.


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On forming people who form communion  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 On forming people who form communion  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.

30 review for After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sophfronia Scott

    A mind-blowing examination of the current state of theological education. Dr. Jennings's observations, however, are applicable to all of academia today and not only the study of religion and theology. He uses the full range of his voice, speaking in tones academic and poetic with notes of creative nonfiction, to express the problems of a fully entrenched archaic system as well as the hope and love of a heart that believes deep change is possible. It is his hope that will stay with me as I take o A mind-blowing examination of the current state of theological education. Dr. Jennings's observations, however, are applicable to all of academia today and not only the study of religion and theology. He uses the full range of his voice, speaking in tones academic and poetic with notes of creative nonfiction, to express the problems of a fully entrenched archaic system as well as the hope and love of a heart that believes deep change is possible. It is his hope that will stay with me as I take on new endeavors. Thank you, Dr. Jennings, for this brave and beautiful work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Oh my gosh. If you are in Christian higher education or theological education, read this RIGHT NOW. Especially if you have been in it for a while. It will help.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Gow

    Brilliant. I’ll definitely read this again. Jennings uses many formats: prose, memoir, poetry, etc. to demonstrate the effects of white supremacy (and what he calls “white masculinity”) on the way that institutions in general - and theological educational institutions specifically - train students, understand themselves, generate syllabi, evaluate goals/growth, and imagine community. He poses important questions really powerfully: How do we navigate and subvert this pressure toward whiteness? What Brilliant. I’ll definitely read this again. Jennings uses many formats: prose, memoir, poetry, etc. to demonstrate the effects of white supremacy (and what he calls “white masculinity”) on the way that institutions in general - and theological educational institutions specifically - train students, understand themselves, generate syllabi, evaluate goals/growth, and imagine community. He poses important questions really powerfully: How do we navigate and subvert this pressure toward whiteness? What resources does Christian theology have for that work? What do white christians/theological students do?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Ebling

    A fantastically insightful look at education (theological education specifically, but much applies to all education) and the way the colonialist mindset prevails and kills the unique parts of all parties involved. By holding up "mastery" that is, training students to become masters (the "pedagogy of the plantation") we destroy the possibility for educational institutions to become places of communion. A lot to think about in this short book. A fantastically insightful look at education (theological education specifically, but much applies to all education) and the way the colonialist mindset prevails and kills the unique parts of all parties involved. By holding up "mastery" that is, training students to become masters (the "pedagogy of the plantation") we destroy the possibility for educational institutions to become places of communion. A lot to think about in this short book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Wishnew III

    Ambitious. Spirit-forged. Brilliantly executed. One of the best thinkers and writers of theology in our time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jon Coutts

    "Theological education institutions ... [are] a building up inside a crumbling. We are inside the Spirit's crumbling of world orders ... and although we have formed our educational institutions inside that world order, we yet carry the contradictions." This book is full of practical wisdom and challenging vision for those willing to rethink academia from within the commodifying strangleholds of white modernity. "Theological education institutions ... [are] a building up inside a crumbling. We are inside the Spirit's crumbling of world orders ... and although we have formed our educational institutions inside that world order, we yet carry the contradictions." This book is full of practical wisdom and challenging vision for those willing to rethink academia from within the commodifying strangleholds of white modernity.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom Greentree

    A deeply perceptive book with which I will continue to process and ponder and discuss. Jennings speaks from within the theological academy (fairly if not completely foreign to most of us) and yet he frames the struggle in a provocative and more broadly applicable way that helps us grapple with the way our world has been formed by self-sufficient whiteness. Not only is it an academically focused book, but also quite poetic — I confess to missing some of what he was getting at, not only because I’ A deeply perceptive book with which I will continue to process and ponder and discuss. Jennings speaks from within the theological academy (fairly if not completely foreign to most of us) and yet he frames the struggle in a provocative and more broadly applicable way that helps us grapple with the way our world has been formed by self-sufficient whiteness. Not only is it an academically focused book, but also quite poetic — I confess to missing some of what he was getting at, not only because I’m white but also because I found myself at times lost in his lyrical fragments. Though maybe this was part of the point.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This book is very academic. There are some great stories in this book. The main idea I will remember from the book is that institutions are designed for and designed to create the white man.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This book is ostensibly about theological education, a topic I would frankly never choose to read about. It was recommended to me by a fellow reader I trust, and the title was compelling. This book...I don’t have the words. I’m going to be chewing on this one slowly for a long long time. Wow.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    I am a product of theological education in America. I have a bachelor's degree in Bible and Ministry. I have a Masters of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. I've taught church history at a seminary and theology in a college. For the past twenty-two years, I've been a pastor. Over the course of the years, I have thought a lot about theological education. For the most part, I've been satisfied with my experiences. But, I have to confess that I'm a white male, and the system that I partic I am a product of theological education in America. I have a bachelor's degree in Bible and Ministry. I have a Masters of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. I've taught church history at a seminary and theology in a college. For the past twenty-two years, I've been a pastor. Over the course of the years, I have thought a lot about theological education. For the most part, I've been satisfied with my experiences. But, I have to confess that I'm a white male, and the system that I participated in, the system that formed me as a historian, theologian, and pastor, was designed with me in mind. That is, it was designed to form white men. But what if you are not white or male. How might you experience the system that seemed to fit me like a glove? Willie James Jennings is a theologian and a teacher. He's served as an academic dean at a major university divinity school. He continues teaching at a different divinity school. While we are both graduates of the same seminary (Fuller Theological Seminary--Jennings began his tenure as an M.Div. student at Fuller during my final year as an M.Div. student), what makes us different is that I'm white and he is black. Thus, while both of us appreciate our tenures at Fuller, we also experienced it differently. What also makes him different is that he served for a decade as an administrator at a seminary. Thus, he has experienced theological education as a student, as a professor, and as an administrator. "After Whiteness" is subtitled "An Education in Belonging." That is an apt description of the book, for the core question has to do with belonging. He writes in the prologue that the most important word that he considers in the books is that of "formation." That is the goal of all education, and "especially theological education." (p. 4). While this is true, and expected, unfortunately, it has been distorted by white colonialist ideology. His goal here, in this brief book, which includes his poetry and stories drawn from his experience as a teacher, dean, and student, is to point us beyond this distortion. There is much discussion about what theological education should look like. Some of that conversation takes a rather commodified vocational perspective. We go to seminary to get tools so we can do ministry. James sees things a bit differently since he is concerned about the formation of persons, but formation that is not distorted. That requires recognizing that this system is designed to form the "white self-sufficient man, his self-sufficiency defined by possession, control, and mastery." (p. 6). That's true even of progressive seminaries. It's deeply rooted in the ethos of theological education. The book is composed of five chapters: Fragments, Designs, Buildings, Motions, Eros. Regarding fragments, the first chapter, James suggests that this is the starting point and that there are three kinds of fragments that are present in the academy. The first fragment is the faith itself. It's all the stuff we work within theological education. The Bible and theology and such. The second fragment is the one formed by the colonial power. This is the fragment experienced and understood by people of color. The pieces of life that are too often excised by the colonial power. The third fragment is the "work of reduction" or the "commodity fragment." This is something that is possessed and even stolen. If, like me, you are white, you will start to become uncomfortable here, but that is the point. The goal here, however, is not to leave us in fragments, but to find communion. The second chapter is titled "Designs," and has to do with the way that theological education is designed. Things like curriculum. Design hee has to do with organizing things around attention, affection, and resistance. The problem here is that theological education is designed in such a way that it distorts creativity. he writes that the "deepest desire that should drive our educational designs is to cultivate people who serve, but that requires us forming them in a vision of people being formed to a people. Such a vision articulates servant leadership through the desire to be a place of communion and in doing so to follow our savior informing Jesus space." (pp. 75-76). From here we move to buildings, to institutions, and the way they are formed. While there is a place for institutions, the question is how are they designed and operated? How might they be designed and operated in a way that serves white men, but not people of color? Part of the problem is that the institution is not set up in ways that one can recognize understand the racial components of the system. That blinds those involved to the persons who enter the buildings. Chapter four is titled "Motions." Here he talks about the need to transform the way those engaged in theological education can reshape and reframe the operations of the school "inside a new vision of edification," that "builds people toward each other." (p. 105). This involves assimilation, but in such a way that people are healed and not harmed. This leads to chapter 5, "Eros." Here the focus is on desire. He writes that the "urgent work calling us in theological education is to touch the divine reality of longing, to enter into its power and newness as the logic inside the work of gathering and inside the formation that should be at the heart of theological education." (p. 143). The problem is that this goal is thwarted by whiteness and a form of greed that destroys the communal metaphysic. Thus, we come to the point of the book, belonging. If the system is designed to form white male pastors who are self-sufficient, then those who do not fit do not belong. Truth be told, none of us is self-sufficient and all of us wish to belong. Unfortunately, the system isn't always designed for that. This is a compelling book that is written for the Academy, but I think it also speaks to those who have gone through the system. It may speak to one's own situation. It may challenge one's self-understanding. As I read it, having gone through the system and taught in it, I recognized how that system was designed with me in mind. My teachers were mostly white men. I went through Fuller in the 1980s, and everyone I studied with was white. I think the only person of color who has been my professor was my Korean Old Testament professor in college. We read white theologians and white commentators. I did take a class in Latin American Theology so I could read Liberation theology, but my professor was a white man. I enjoyed seminary. I learned a lot, but it's apparent that not everyone likely fared as well as did I!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian LePort

    Willie James Jennings (Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University Divinity School) has written a challenging reflection on the current state of theological education and what many institutions value in how they train students. His main concern is with the formation of students: What does a graduate become? What values do they receive? For Jennings, most institutions are preparing their students to function in a world that values “whiteness” which he define Willie James Jennings (Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University Divinity School) has written a challenging reflection on the current state of theological education and what many institutions value in how they train students. His main concern is with the formation of students: What does a graduate become? What values do they receive? For Jennings, most institutions are preparing their students to function in a world that values “whiteness” which he defines not as “people of European descent” but “to a way of being in the world and seeing the world that forms cognitive and affective structures able to seduce people into its habitation and its meaning making” (p. 9). This is exemplified by “White self-sufficient masculinity” that “is a way of organizing life with ideas and forming a persona that distorts identity and strangles the possibilities of dense life together” (pp. 8-9). If I’ve understood him correctly, education, and even theological education, aims to create the self-sufficient man (and yes, I think our culture’s visions of masculinity is key), the Lone Ranger-type. For a fuller review, see: https://readingthebiblewithigen.home....

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rob O'Lynn

    Rich, insightful, thoughtful, intriguing, pastoral, challenging. These are all words that I would use to describe Jennings' book. As a theological educator who has also recently moved into an administrative role, Jennings' meditations have given me much to think about, to reconsider. However, for a book that seeks to provide answers, it seems to primarily set the table for asking those questions. While I certainly agree with Jennings that "Theological education could mark a new path for Western Rich, insightful, thoughtful, intriguing, pastoral, challenging. These are all words that I would use to describe Jennings' book. As a theological educator who has also recently moved into an administrative role, Jennings' meditations have given me much to think about, to reconsider. However, for a book that seeks to provide answers, it seems to primarily set the table for asking those questions. While I certainly agree with Jennings that "Theological education could mark a new path for Western education" (p. 154), I think the problem (and I think Jennings would agree) is bigger than one book can solve, as almost all institutional and systemic issues are. That being said, I also think Jennings' book serves as a rallying cry. At its heart and soul, theological education is about formation rather than instruction, community rather than institution. We in the theological academy are more prone to speak words of assessment and fundraising than words of peace and mercy. There is certainly an opportunity to shift the balance of both power and purpose in (theological) education. And, hopefully, Jennings' voice can once again be heard by those who are listening.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ron Willoughby

    I’m not certain what I have just read. (Not exactly what you want to hear if you are Dr. Jennings.) I’m not a theological educator, though I tried to be one for about 30 seconds. So, that’s probably part of my problem. It could be that there was a lot of it over my head. Though to be fair I have read the Acts commentary and also The Christian Imagination (both by Dr. Jennings) I had to stretch but I was able to comprehend a good bit of both. Parts of the book I was just lost. Parts of the book I I’m not certain what I have just read. (Not exactly what you want to hear if you are Dr. Jennings.) I’m not a theological educator, though I tried to be one for about 30 seconds. So, that’s probably part of my problem. It could be that there was a lot of it over my head. Though to be fair I have read the Acts commentary and also The Christian Imagination (both by Dr. Jennings) I had to stretch but I was able to comprehend a good bit of both. Parts of the book I was just lost. Parts of the book I need to mull over for quite a while. Parts were challenging and heartbreaking. And then there were those handful of beautiful, profound, significant sentences that made me long for something more. Those were worth wrestling through the rest of the book to ‘discover’. I may have another go at it next year. Who knows? Maybe I will ‘discover’ a few more of those sentences. Maybe next year “will bring hope into focus.”

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bethany Banks

    A MUST read for anyone who has been involved in higher education and specifically theological education. I'll be thinking about this book for years to come. The aim of education is communion with one another and with God. "The tragedy is the narrowing of intellectual formation to a form of attention cultivated through brutality, through a design that demands Euro-masculinist gesture as the required carrier of this student's ideas, her creativity, and her search for understanding. We should work A MUST read for anyone who has been involved in higher education and specifically theological education. I'll be thinking about this book for years to come. The aim of education is communion with one another and with God. "The tragedy is the narrowing of intellectual formation to a form of attention cultivated through brutality, through a design that demands Euro-masculinist gesture as the required carrier of this student's ideas, her creativity, and her search for understanding. We should work toward a design that aims at an attention that forms deeper habits of attending to one another and to the worlds around us." "The urgent work calling us into theological education is to touch the divine reality of longing, to enter into its power and newness as the logic inside the work of gathering and inside the formation that should be at the heart of theological education."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This book cut me to the quick. I recognized so much of my own divinity school in the descriptions of his own. My seminary, too. My denomination... much of my world and myself. This is a book about the myth of white male self-sufficiency as our subtle, insidious barometer of worth and reliability, even in theological schools. And it hurts everybody. It hurts churches and theological inquiry. It hurts individuals. Jennings was the dean at Yale Divinity School for many years. He includes poetry, wh This book cut me to the quick. I recognized so much of my own divinity school in the descriptions of his own. My seminary, too. My denomination... much of my world and myself. This is a book about the myth of white male self-sufficiency as our subtle, insidious barometer of worth and reliability, even in theological schools. And it hurts everybody. It hurts churches and theological inquiry. It hurts individuals. Jennings was the dean at Yale Divinity School for many years. He includes poetry, which I didn't have the patience for in my first read through, but he also tells many stories of students and faculty he's known, which I ate up - they all felt so familiar. An important read for anyone in the theological world, I'd say. Wow.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    Engaging reflections on teaching and leading at a divinity school. Many of the reflections are in the form of poetry, which is pretty unusual but surprisingly appropriate for a lot of the emotional stories Jennings relays. The stories, which were set apart from the main text (sometimes confusingly since the main text would address the stories, too) were very moving and put flesh on the bones. The whole book could be used as a text to reflect on at a faculty retreat or some such event at theologi Engaging reflections on teaching and leading at a divinity school. Many of the reflections are in the form of poetry, which is pretty unusual but surprisingly appropriate for a lot of the emotional stories Jennings relays. The stories, which were set apart from the main text (sometimes confusingly since the main text would address the stories, too) were very moving and put flesh on the bones. The whole book could be used as a text to reflect on at a faculty retreat or some such event at theological schools as a good reminder of what we are called to do. Of course (note the title), it's all couched in the post-colonial context most seminaries find themselves in. There are many hard truths to contemplate throughout.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This is a well-written and thoughtful account of racism and patriarchy in the contemporary "Western" academic theological world and the author's experience, reflection, and advice for how to both navigate and change the system. Although his advice and reflection is centered on academia, specifically theology departments, the recommendations and experience is relevant to almost any aspect of the professional world. His anecdotes and examples help to bring the reader into his world and offer a sha This is a well-written and thoughtful account of racism and patriarchy in the contemporary "Western" academic theological world and the author's experience, reflection, and advice for how to both navigate and change the system. Although his advice and reflection is centered on academia, specifically theology departments, the recommendations and experience is relevant to almost any aspect of the professional world. His anecdotes and examples help to bring the reader into his world and offer a shared experience, to some extent.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    I don't know what to say, but this is a book not only for those in theological education, or education in general, but anyone interested in understanding where we have come from, who we are now, and who we might become. There are many things I'll return to in this book, and much I'm sure I missed. I don't know what to say, but this is a book not only for those in theological education, or education in general, but anyone interested in understanding where we have come from, who we are now, and who we might become. There are many things I'll return to in this book, and much I'm sure I missed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Wow. This book packed a lot of depth and thought into less than 200 pages. Challenging and invigorating, I will definitely have to read this one again to fully receive everything it offers. Until then, I look at my church ready to imagine community and belonging beyond whiteness.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ayo

    Absolutely phenomenal.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Stout

    Challenging and beautifully written. A mixture of cultural analysis, poetry, and memoir. Essential reading for anyone involved in higher education, especially theological education.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    One of the most important books on institutional life, both how it is and what it could be. While theological education is the lens through which he writes, this is applicable far beyond seminaries and divinity schools.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    A wonderful book. It’s a confronting read, but also profoundly hopeful. It is also filled with invitations to repent, and to reimagine what we do, how we might go about doing it, and about who we might become as a result.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sam Strickland

  26. 4 out of 5

    THE

  27. 4 out of 5

    James Weise

  28. 4 out of 5

    S McDonald

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diana Hayes

  30. 4 out of 5

    Evan Graham

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