Universität Heidelberg Presents James W.C. Pennington Award

James W.C. Pennington
James W.C. Pennington

The religious historian Harry S. Stout, who conducts research at Yale University and Yale Divinity School, will receive the James W.C. Pennington Award of Heidelberg University. The award honors one of the leading experts on the cultural history of American Protestantism. The award, presented by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Faculty of Theology, commemorates the American minister and former slave James W.C. Pennington. In 1849 Pennington was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Ruperto Carola and thus became the first African American to receive this title from a European university.

Jan Stievermann, who holds the chair for the History of Christianity in the United States at the HCA, points out that Harry S. Stout has done groundbreaking research on Puritanism and Evangelicalism. His more recent work has focused on the role of religion in the coming and conduct of the American Civil War. One of the central questions Prof. Stout’s work poses is to what extent religious motivations and interpretations influenced the emancipation of slaves. At the award ceremony, Prof. Stout will speak on this topic, which was also central to the life and work of James W.C. Pennington.

The James W.C. Pennington Award, now in its sixth year, recognises outstanding research in areas especially important to Pennington: slavery and emancipation, peace, education, societal reform, civil rights, religion and intercultural understanding. The prize includes a one-month research sojourn in Heidelberg made possible through funding from the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation.

Born in 1809, James W.C. Pennington escaped from slavery at the age of 18, learned to read and write, and in 1834 was admitted to Yale University as its first black student. He became a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1838. At the World Peace Conference in Paris in 1849, Pennington met Heidelberg scholar Friedrich Carové, who was so impressed with the American that he convinced Heidelberg University to award Pennington an honorary doctorate in theology that same year.

At the award ceremony on 17 May, Prof. Stout will deliver the keynote entitled ‘Lincoln’s God and the Emancipation Proclamation’. The speech will be in English. The event begins at 6:15 pm at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.