Syllabus: Faith in the Fire—Religious Public Intellectuals

A selected reading list from Cornel West and Jonathan L. Walton’s course

Engaging a tradition of faith-based public intellectuals from various eras, who tackle interrelated injustices of classism, militarism, sexism, and racism.

Gloria Anzaldua Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality
Gloria E. Anzaldúa (Duke University Press, 2015).
The culmination of the philosophy of queer Chicana feminist theorist Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1942–2004), this work valorizes subaltern forms and methods of knowing, being, and creating that have been marginalized by Western thought.
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Harvard University Press, 1993).
Class, race, and gender dynamics interact in this nuanced history of the crucial role of black Baptist women in making the church a powerful institution for social and political change.

Cesar Chavez

An Organizer’s Tale: Speeches
César Chávez (Penguin Classics, 2008).
An extensive collection of writings by César Chávez (1927–93), farm labor leader, civil rights activist, environmentalist, and consumer advocate. Included are his speeches to spread the word of the 1965–70 Delano Grape Strike and testimony before the House of Representatives about the hazards of pesticides.

James H. Cone Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian
James H. Cone (Orbis Books, 2018).
The final work and memoir of the founder of black liberation theology, James H. Cone (1938–2018), describes his efforts to use theology as a tool in the struggle against oppression and for a better world. He reflects on lessons learned from critics and students, and the ongoing challenge of his models Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin.
Brittney Cooper Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women
Brittney Cooper (University of Illinois Press, 2017).
This study charts the emergence and far-reaching influence of black female intellectuals and activists like Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Barrier Williams, Pauli Murray, and Toni Cade Bambara, whose work has critically reshaped our understandings of race and gender discourse.
Dorothy Day The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist
Dorothy Day (HarperOne, 2009).
The memoir of Dorothy Day (1897–1980), journalist, social activist, and cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement, is an important milestone in U.S. social history.
 
Fannie Lou Hamer The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is
Fannie Lou Hamer (ed. Maegan Parker Brooks and Davis W. Houck; University Press of Mississippi, 2010).
A selection of the most important speeches and testimonies of Mississippi sharecropper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–77), whose 1964 speech at the Democratic National Convention changed the course of black voting rights in the United States.
Abraham Heschel

The Essential Writings
Abraham Joshua Heschel (ed. Susannah Heschel; Orbis Books, 2011).
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–72), Jewish philosopher and theologian, was active in the civil rights movement, in opposition to the Vietnam War, and in Roman Catholic–Jewish interfaith talks. This collection of essays reflects his conviction that prayer and study cannot be separated from public action.

Susannah Heschel The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany
Susannah Heschel (Princeton University Press, 2010).
This important work of intellectual history is a study of the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life, whose Protestant theologians and scholars placed anti-Semitism at the theological center of their efforts to redefine Christianity.
Martin Luther King, Jr. The Radical King
Martin Luther King, Jr. (ed. Cornel West; Beacon Press, 2015).
This collection of writings, curated and introduced by Cornel West, showcases the revolutionary vision of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–68), underscoring his solidarity with the poor and the working class and his opposition to the Vietnam War and global imperialism.
Cesar Chavez The Political Spirituality of César Chávez: Crossing Religious Borders
Luis León (University of California Press, 2014).
Neither history nor biography, this book on civil rights and labor leader César Chávez (1927–93) traces the myths he created about himself and those told about him, presenting him as a religious border crosser who defies conventional categorization.
Pauli Murray Dark Testament and Other Poems
Pauli Murray (Liveright, 2018).
This sole book of poems by civil rights activist, scholar, and lawyer Pauli Murray (1910–85) speaks to the brutal history of slavery and Jim Crow and the dream of racial justice and equality.
Reinhold Niebuhr Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics
Reinhold Niebuhr (2nd ed.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2013).
This study in ethics and politics by religious intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) argues that individual morality is intrinsically incompatible with collective life, thus making social and political conflict inevitable.
Walter Rauschenbusch Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke up the Church
Walter Rauschenbusch (ed. Paul Raushenbush; HarperOne, 2009).
The classic text by theologian and leader of the Social Gospel movement, Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), is updated in this 100th anniversary edition with new essays by Joan Chittister, James A. Forbes, Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Phyllis Trible, Cornel West, and others.
Maria Stewart America’s First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches
Maria W. Stewart (ed. Marilyn Richardson; Indiana University Press, 1987).
An introduction to and selection of the works of Maria Stewart (1803–79), influential activist, abolitionist, and public speaker, and the first black American to lecture in defense of women’s rights.
Mary Church Terrell The Progress of Colored Women: Three Civil Rights Speeches by the First Black Woman to Receive a College Education in the United States of America
Mary Church Terrell (Pantianos, 1898).
A biographic introduction accompanies this collection of speeches by Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954), a lifelong civil rights activist and advocate for equality and social justice for black women who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women.
Howard Thurman Jesus and the Disinherited
Howard Thurman (reprint ed.; Beacon Press, 1996).
Acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman (1899–1981) deeply influenced leaders of the civil rights movement with his classic treatise on how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.
Frontispiece of David Walker's Appeal David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World
David Walker (ed. Sean Wilentz; Hill and Wang, 1995).
This landmark pamphlet by abolitionist David Walker (1796–1830) was one of the most radical attacks on slavery and white racism by a nineteenth-century African American.

 

Please follow our Commentary Guidelines when engaging in discussion on this site.