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James Cone Wins 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion

Nov 30, 2017

Founder of Black Liberation Theology links the cross and the lynching tree.

James ConeBetween 1880 and 1940, nearly 5,000 black men and women were lynched in the United States. In response, African American Christians turned to their religion and to the cross of Jesus as a symbol of suffering but also of profound hope. Despite these violent killings and the centrality of the cross in Christian communities, the lynching tree did not occupy any space in the American theological imagination.

In The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Books, 2011), renowned theologian James H. Cone passionately conjoins the provocative images of the first-century cross and the twentieth-century lynching tree.

“The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching,” said Cone. “Both are symbols of the death of the innocent, mob hysteria, humiliation, and terror. They both also reveal a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning and demonstrate that God can transform ugliness into beauty, into God’s liberating presence.”

The book earned Cone the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, jointly with the University of Louisville, awards the $100,000 prize to honor and publicize creative and significant insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine. The award also recognizes ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community.

“Dr. Cone has gifted us with a stunningly relevant theological analysis of the cross,” said Tyler Mayfield, Faculty Director of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion and A.B. Rhodes Associate Professor of Old Testament at Louisville Seminary. “By connecting the suffering of Jesus to the suffering of black men and women, he provokes us to ponder death, terror, and ultimately liberation.”

Cross and the Lynching TreeThe Cross and the Lynching Tree received the 2012 Nautilus Silver Award in Religion/Spirituality-Western Traditions. It was an Amazon.com #1 best seller in religion in February 2012. Naming it one of the top religion books of 2011, Huffington Post editors said: “One of the great theologians of the late 20th century, Cone forces us to look hard at suffering, oppression and, ultimately, redemption.”

Known as the founder of black liberation theology, Cone is the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Among his numerous awards are the American Black Achievement Award in religion given by Ebony Magazine (November 1992), the Fund for Theological Education Award for contributions to theological education and scholarship (November 1999), the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion (2009) and the Eliza Garrett Distinguished Service Award in recognition of seminal theological scholarship from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (2010). An ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Cone is listed in the Directory of American Scholars, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Religion, Who’s Who Among African Americans, and Who’s Who in the World. He is the author of twelve books and more than 150 articles.

Cone is among the five Grawemeyer Award winners being named this week. The University of Louisville presents the prizes annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education, and presents a religion prize jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The 2018 winners will present free lectures about their award-winning ideas when they visit Louisville in April to accept their $100,000 prizes.
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