As part of its Duke Chapel Reads series, the Chapel will host online conversations about the book Jesus and the Disinherited by the theologian and minister Howard Thurman as a way to address contemporary issues of faith, race, justice, and love. Through Duke Chapel Reads, the Chapel aims to curate spaces for reflection and conversation based on a common book reading each semester.
Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery will host a concluding online discussion of the book with Dr. Walter Fluker, a scholar of Thurman’s work, on Tuesday, April 6, at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Fluker is the editor of the multi-volume series The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman and is Dean's Professor of Spirituality, Ethics, and Leadership at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Register via Zoom here.
“Jesus and the Disinherited stands out as a book that both critiques the injustices suffered by people facing oppression and also offers a spirituality of true resistance and reconciliation centered on the love of Jesus,” Dean Powery said. “It is a book that helped sustain and guide the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement—and I believe it is a book that can provide vision and insight for us in our time and during this upcoming season of Lent.”
Members of the Duke community and others who are interested in participating in an online reading group about the book are invited to contact the Rev. Bruce Puckett, assistant dean of the Chapel.
In Jesus and the Disinherited, first published in 1949, Thurman frames the book as a response to an inquiry about how he can hold to a Christian faith that has been used to justify the enslavement and mistreatment of Black Americans for centuries. Using the sociological language of his time, Thurman explores how Jesus, a rural Jew under Roman occupation, was among, and spoke to, those “with their backs against the wall.” Thurman argues that from this social location Jesus teaches against evils that could corrode the oppressed from within—fear, deception, and hate—and for an ethic of love.
Thurman (1899–1981) served as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University and then dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. In 1944, he co-founded the interracial, interdenominational Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. He preached twice at Duke Chapel in 1979, once with an untitled sermon on the temptation of Jesus in the desert and once with a sermon titled The Gothic Principle on the dual physical and spiritual nature of humans. The sermons are highlighted in the Chapel’s Living Tradition online preaching resource and available in the Duke Chapel Recordings digital archive.
Dean Powery is currently teaching a course through Duke’s Divinity School titled "Deep River: Howard Thurman, Spirituality, and the Prophetic Life." He recently contributed an essay to the book Anchored in the Current: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet, which offers fresh insights into Thurman as a mystic, preacher, educator, and theologian.