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Scholar with a theological approach to racial justice among 2023 Grawemeyer Award winners

2023 Grawemeyer Religion Award winner Kelly Brown Douglas
Ron Hester
2023 Grawemeyer Religion Award winner Kelly Brown Douglas

The University of Louisville and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary shared the final winner of the 2023 Grawemeyer Awards Friday.

Scholar and Episcopal priest Kelly Brown Douglas, who serves as dean at the Union Theological Seminary’s Episcopal Divinity School in New York City, earned the religion prize for her book titled “Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter.”

Douglas was inspired to write it after witnessing the 2020 protests against police brutality and hearing her son ask questions like: Do you ever really believe there will be a time when Black Lives Matter?

“That question was not simply, for me, a sort of social, political, historical question, but it was a question of faith,” she told LPM News. “Because if I could not believe in that time, then what did that say about my faith in a God of justice?”

As she began writing the book, she was in a “place of not simply existential, but spiritual despair,” contemplating the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the enduring pandemic of racism and anti-Blackness. What came of that was a book that scrutinizes ways white-dominated Christianity has used religion to oppress Black people and perpetuated racism. It also urges faith leaders and communities to think about how they can create a better, more just future.

“This has always been a country that has been defined by this narrative of race,” she said. “Until we begin to tell the truth about that, we can't become who we claim that we want to be, to become our better selves. And it has to be the role of religious and faith leaders to speak into that truth, to claim that truth.”

In addition to telling the truth about all of the injustices, faith institutions also have to take action and have the “moral courage” to do so, Douglas continued.

“And that's about more than apologies, that's about more than simply giving the ancestors of those who have been enslaved, etc., money,” she said. “It's about changing systems, structures and a way of thinking that brings us a little bit closer to this vision of who we claim to be as a nation and a little bit closer to this beloved community.”

Douglas looked at the duality of Christinaity, “as a tool to harm or a tool to heal, a tool for justice or a tool for injustices,” and found that she believes equality and caring for others is what’s truly at the core of Christian values.

“Douglas takes us on a captivating, painful journey with personal and erudite reflections on America’s corrupted soul,” Tyler Mayfield, religion award director, said in a news release. “Her insights are lucid and disturbing. Her remedies are bold and constructive. May we find the courage to walk into the future she envisions for us all.”

The Grawemeyer Award comes with a $100,000 prize. Recipients will come to Louisville in the spring to lead talks about the ideas laid out in their winning works.

U of L grad and former Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary trustee Charles Grawemeyer established the prestigious annual award in 1984 “to recognize the power of creative thought and underscore the impact a single idea can have on the world,” according to the Grawemeyer Awards website.

The university released the names of all of its 2023 Grawemeyer Award winners throughout the week:

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