Tag Archives: speech

The first James W.C. Pennington Award: Albert J. Raboteau

Albert J. Raboteau, recipient of the first James W.C. Pennington Award.

“I have been moved,” Albert J. Raboteau writes in an essay in A Fire in the Bones,  “by the pervasive faith of black Christians that God was acting in their own history.”

Studying that faith and that history has been Prof. Raboteau’s life work. The Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion at Princeton University, he is the author of the seminal book on Christianity among American slaves, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South. He has further explored the African-American history of faith in Canaan Land  and African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture.

He reflected powerfully on his own relationship to that faith in  A Sorrowful Joy, where Raboteau speaks of his own spiritual journey, and A Fire in the Bones, which opens with a beautiful essay on how faith and history intertwine.

 “History is based on an act of faith, the faith that events are susceptible of meanings,” he writes. “I, as a historian and a believer, cannot but hope that our history is touched by the providence of God.”

Students at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies have had the special opportunity to explore that history with Raboteau this semester in a compact seminar on African-American religion.  Raboteau will also speak of this history in a free public event next week, focusing on the topic of “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement as Precedent for Religion in U.S. Politics.”

The lecture is open to the public: June 14, at 6:15 p.m., in the Atrium of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais, Hauptstraße 120. Reception to follow.

Raboteau comes to the HCA as the first recipient of the James W.C. Pennington Award. The award strengthens the ties that bind  the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg to the United States and the international academic community. It was created in 2011 by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies and the Faculty of Theology, honoring the life of James W.C. Pennington. An African-American churchman, abolitionist and pacifist, Pennington received an honorary doctorate from the Ruperto Carola in 1849, the first black man to receive a degree of higher learning in Europe.

Pennington, who wrote what may be the first history of African Americans, The Origin and History of the Colored People, as well as his own autobiographical slave narrative, The Fugitive Blacksmith, holds a special place in the history of the University of Heidelberg, connecting the university to American and specifically African-American history. This award thus pays tribute to Pennington’s work.

The James W.C. Pennington Award is funded by the Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation, and is given to scholars who have done distinguished work on the African-American experience in the Atlantic world. The award fosters further research on topics important to Pennington.

The university and the HCA are honored to give the first award to Raboteau, who carries on the history and tradition of Pennington.

Pennington, writing his own history in 1849, the same year he was given an honorary doctorate in Heidelberg, noted exactly the kind of faith in history that has so inspired Raboteau:

“The limits of this work compel me to pass over many interesting incidents which occurred,” Pennington wrote. “I must confine myself only to those which will show the striking providence of God.”

— Daniel Silliman

Invitation to an inauguration

The Theology Faculty of the University of Heidelberg and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies cordially offer an open invitation to the inaugural lecture of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany:

Peter J. Thuesen
Professor of Religious Studies
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
“Jonathan Edwards and the Transatlantic World of Books”

On: Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 18:15
At: The Atrium of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies
Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais
Hauptstraße 120
69117 Heidelberg

To be followed by a reception.

A symposium will be held the next day, on Thursday, 12 July, on “New Avenues in Jonathan Edwards Studies and Eighteenth-Century Religious History,” in the Stucco at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

The full schedule:

Wednesday, 11 July
Kenneth P. Minkema (Yale Divinity School) and Jan Stievermann (Universität Heidelberg)
“What is the Jonathan Edwards Center?”

Peter J. Thuessen (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis)
“Jonathan Edwards and the Transatlantic World of Books”

Thursday, 12 July
“New Avenues in Jonathan Edwards Studies and Eighteenth-Century Religious History”

Hermann Wellenreuther (Universität Göttingen)
“Is Religion Affected by Atlantic Transfers in the Early Modern Period?”

Andreas Beck (Evangelische Theologische Fakulteit, Leuven)
“Jonathan Edwards and Reformed Orthodoxy on Free Will and Determinism”

Lunch Break

Sarah Rivett (Princeton University)
“Savage Sounds: Indigenous Words and Missionary Linguistics in New Light Theology”

Reiner Smolinski (Georgia State University)
“Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards and the Challenge of Philosophical Materialism”

Round Table
“New Projects and Archives in Eighteenth-Century Religious History”

To register for the lecture or the symposium, call the HCA at 06221/54-3710 or e-mail dsilliman@hca.uni-heidelberg.de by 1 July.


We at the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany are proud to announce the official inauguration of the center will be held on July 11, 2012.

There will be a number of presentations and a panel discussion, with a keynote address by Peter J. Thuesen, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, author of the acclaimed Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, and editor of the final volume of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

Thuesen will speak on Edward’s reading and intellectual formation, using Edward’s studies as a window into the 18th century history of ideas.

Thuesen has written extensively on the development of Edward’s thinking. In The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards, he examined the wide range of Edwards’ reading, and looked at the “competing influences” on his thought. Edwards’ thinking was not only shaped by traditional Puritan sources, Theusen argued, but also by a wide array of Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke, the Cambridge Platonists, and even the deists and Arminians that Edwards so fiercely opposed.

Thuesen explored this subject in more depth in Vol. 26 of Edward’s collected works, where he wrote a 113-page critical introduction to the first-ever publication of the Puritan preacher’s personal record of books of interest, and the notebook where he kept track of books he loaned to family, friends, and fellow clergy. In looking at these records, Thuesen traced Edwards’ reading agenda, shedding light on the “mental universe” Edwards’ inhabited.

At the Heidelberg Center for American Studies on July 11, Thuesen will turn his attention to the light Edwards’ studies shed on thinking in the trans-Atlantic world of the 18th century.

For more information or details about attending the inauguration, e-mail Daniel Silliman at dsilliman@hca.uni-heidelberg.de.


— Daniel Silliman