Professor William Jennings recognized for his work combining race, religion and the environment


Yale Daily News

William “Willie” Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and African studies at Yale Divinity School, discussed his work making the connection between theology and race in an interview that featured on the cover of the important theological publication. The Christian Century.

The interview, “Whiteness rooted in place,” which appeared in the November 3 issue of The Christian Century, was conducted following a talk Jennings gave for the non-profit Veritas Forum. which organizes Christian conferences on faith and reason on university campuses. Jennings began by discussing the relationship between race, place and religion, before blazing the trail for greater unity in the United States and abroad.

“Right now is a great time for anyone interested in matters of religion, race and the environment to be at Yale,” Jennings told The News.

According to Jennings, at Divinity School, he sought to create a form of interdisciplinary study by combining theological studies, black studies and critical geography, which also incorporates aspects of environmental studies.

“It’s new to Yale – there have been colleagues who have done parts of this in the past, but trying to bring all of these things together is definitely new to Yale,” Jennings said. “It’s not new to the academy in terms of different areas of study, but having someone within theological studies trying to bring them all together is new.”

Jennings characterized the multidisciplinary approach as an emerging field within the theological community and emphasized that it is structured to include previously excluded groups in discussions surrounding issues of race, place and religion.

According to Jennings, the interdisciplinary combination of theology and race has given students access to courses that cover today’s most pressing issues across a wide range of materials and approaches and enabled them make new connections.

“It’s really exciting to have students with us at Divinity School to think about that – the relationship between how we see ourselves beyond race issues, how we imagine how to care for the environment, and whatever other efforts you are aiming at in your studies, to bring all of these elements together – and if we are talking about people of faith, to integrate it into their vision of faith – it is exciting, ”said Jennings.

In addition to her classroom work, Jennings has also had an influence on Divinity School’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives, according to Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling. Jennings co-chaired an anti-racism task force that helped the school revise its strategic plan for DEIB, Sterling said.

“Willie Jennings is a vital faculty member at Divinity School,” Sterling told The News. “He is a leading intellectual who commands the respect of his peers. He is also one of the most visible public intellectuals in our faculty… He is quite simply exceptional.

Jennings’ multidisciplinary approach has given her the opportunity to collaborate with a wide range of faculty, many of whom come from Divinity School and the School of the Environment.

John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founders of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and professors at the Divinity School and the School of the Environment, have spent much of their careers making similar multidisciplinary connections with Jennings. According to Tucker, the couple have collaborated with Jennings on several occasions and, through their work, have formed a strong relationship with the wider interdisciplinary movement.

John Grim noted that Jennings represents more than her research through her outspoken role in the theological community.

“From the start when we met Willie, we recognized and shared with him a joy and a hope, and that he is a smart spokesperson for that joy and for hope,” said Grim.

Willie Jennings will be teaching a class called Body and Land in the spring.


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