Deconstructing the Fearful Condition

Deconstructing the Fearful Condition
Willie James Jennings
23rd May 2023 – 11.30am
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
The Revd Dr Willie James Jennings
Tuesday 23 May at 11.30am at the University Church

This lecture meditates on the problem of fear as both currency and virus enhanced by the structures of the build environment. What does it mean to have fear built into the built environment? I posit an answer to this question by drawing a connection between a fearing or fearful body and forms and configurations of fear designed into place. How might we reconfigure place to welcome the stranger, refuse the anticipation of hostility, and draw the body into new practices of hospitality that work themselves down to the ground? Turning again to the life of Jesus, especially the events following his resurrection, I outline the work of draining fear from place.

We are in a crisis of displacement that joins the problems of housing, homelessness, and forced migration to the horrors of white supremacy, patriarchy, and war. Our crisis of displacement – geographic, racial, social, and environmental – demands we consider both the body and the building, both the design and creation of subjects and built environments in their inextricable connection and relation. Taking the work of the great African American theologian and mystic Howard Washington Thurman in his famed text, Jesus and the Disinherited as inspiration and guide, these lectures outline a Christology aimed at redeeming habitation.

Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited was a Christological intervention into the ways fear, deception, and hate mangle the human spirit. Offering us a portrait of the life of Jesus and what he called the religion of Jesus, Thurman situated what would famously be called the love-ethic of Jesus as the central energy and reality that would rehabilitation the human spirit and redeem humanity. I will, following Thurman, return to Jesus, but now with his mother Mary to help us rethink the body and the building. In this regard, I will again consider these three realities – fear, deception, and hatred – but now in relation to the built environment and in relation to the fabrications of a self and the formation of subjectivity.

The Lectures will take place on Tuesday 23rd May 2023 and Tuesday 30th May 2023. They will also be live-streamed.

About the Lecturer

The Revd Dr Willie James Jennings is currently Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University Divinity School. Dr. Jennings was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Jennings received his B.A. in Religion and Theological Studies from Calvin College (1984), his M.Div. (Master of Divinity degree) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, and his Ph.D. degree from Duke University. Dr. Jennings who is a systematic theologian teaches in the areas of theology, black church and Africana studies, as well as post-colonial and race theory. Dr. Jennings is the author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race published by Yale University Press. It is one of the most important books in theology written in the last 25 years and is now a standard text read in colleges, seminaries, and universities. Dr. Jennings is also the recipient of the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his groundbreaking work on race and Christianity. Dr. Jennings recently authored commentary on the Book of Acts won the Reference Book of the Year Award, from The Academy of Parish Clergy. He is also the author of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, which is the inaugural book in the much anticipated book series, Theological Education between the Times, and has already become an instant classic, winning the 2020 book of the year award from Publisher’s Weekly, and being selected as a finalist for the 2021 American Academy of Religion Book of the Year in the Constructive- Reflective Studies category. And now Dr. Jennings is hard at work on a book on the doctrine of creation, tentatively entitled, “Reframing the World.”

In addition to being a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and seminaries, Dr. Jennings is also a regular workshop leader at pastor conferences. He is also a consultant for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, and for the Association of Theological Schools. He served along with his wife, the Reverend Joanne L. Browne Jennings as associate ministers at the Mount Level Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, and for many years, they served together as interim pastors for several Presbyterian and Baptist churches in North Carolina. They are the parents of two wonderful daughters, Njeri and Safiya Jennings.