For the panel discussion, Dean Powery, an associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, will be joined by the Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale University Divinity School, and Dr. Charmaine Royal, the Robert O. Keohane Professor of African and African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, and Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke University. The moderator for the conversation will be Dr. Patrick Smith, director of the Program in Bioethics at Duke's Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine and also an associate research professor of theological ethics and bioethics at Duke Divinity School.
In Becoming Human, Dean Powery contrasts a view of humanity that sees race as essential and valuing some bodies over others with a theological understanding of humanity, shaped by the biblical account of Pentecost, that sees the diversity of human bodies as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Published by Westminster John Knox Press and winner of the 2023 Book of the Year award from the Academy of Parish Clergy, the book gets its title from a 1968 remembrance for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. given by the theologian Dr. Howard Thurman. “[Dr. King] was killed in one sense because [hu]mankind is not quite human yet,” Dr. Thurman said. “May he live because all of us in America are closer to becoming human than ever before.”
A graduate of Duke University, Dr. Jennings is a systematic theologian who teaches in the areas of theology, black church and Africana studies, as well as post-colonial and race theory. The author of a number of books, he wrote The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, which has become a standard text read in colleges, seminaries, and universities. He is the recipient of the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his groundbreaking work on race and Christianity. In the foreword for Becoming Human, Dr. Jennings writes, “Powery is bringing together these two questions—where can we hide from the Spirit of God, and how is it that we can resist the Spirit of God—at the site of race and the racial condition of the Western world.”
Dr. Royal directs the Duke Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference and the Duke Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. Her research, scholarship, and teaching focus on ethical, social, scientific, and clinical implications of human genetics and genomics research, particularly issues at the intersection of genetics and "race." Her specific interests and primary areas of work include genetics and genomics in African and African Diaspora populations; sickle cell disease and trait; public and professional perspectives and practices regarding "race," ethnicity, and ancestry; genetic ancestry inference; and broadly defined genotype- environment interplay.
The online conversation on March 7, one of the Chapel’s Bridge Panels, is the culminating event for this year’s Duke Chapel Reads program, which promotes reflection and conversation on a common book reading each semester.
People watching the conversation online will be invited to submit questions for the panelists.
Campus co-sponsors of the event include: Center for Christianity and Scholarship, Department of African and African American Studies, Forum for Scholars and Publics, and Duke Divinity School Office of Black Church Studies.