Gary Dorrien | Photo provided by the Grawemeyer Awards
Gary Dorrien | Photo provided by the Grawemeyer Awards

In 2015 in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Gary Dorrien wrote: “The Black Social Gospel is wrongly and strangely overlooked. Few books refer to it, there are no books on this tradition as a whole, and the phrase registers almost nothing on Google. Yet this is the category that best describes Martin Luther King Jr., his chief mentors, his closest movement allies, and the entire tradition of black church racial justice activism reaching back to the 1880s.”

It’s still true that when a search of “Black Social Gospel” on Google, only generates a smattering of hits, but now Dorrien, author of a book on the social justice tradition, has won $100,000 and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, jointly presented by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The New Abolition: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel” covers the early history of this tradition of religious thought and resistance and its close association in the twentieth century with W. E. B. Du Bois. The movement’s new perspective on Christianity and activism trickled up through Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dorrien, an Episcopal priest, is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and Professor of Religion at Columbia University.

According to a news release, “Philosopher Cornel West describes him as ‘the preeminent social ethicist in North America today,’ and philosopher Robert Neville describes him as ‘the most rigorous theological historian of our time.'”

Dorrien is the author of 17 books, including a progressive defense of President Obama’s leadership, published in 2012.

Dorrien 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.

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