Abstract: This talk engages in a preliminary reflection on W.E.B. Du Bois’s thoughts about religion. I want to think of him as a figure that represents a third way between William James’s and John Dewey’s view of religion – as someone who enables us to take up the call for a religious ideal and who keeps track of the need for consolation without appealing to metaphysical foundations that provide comfort. In his essay, “Of the Passing of the First Born,” the contours of that new religious ideal are given shape not in the context of grappling with “religious disease” but with confronting his dead son in the coffin. The idea then of Du Bois’s religious naturalism as a kind of third way—what I call an uncommon faith—grows out of his insistence on beginning here, with death, to articulate a practical faith in ideal ends.
Bio: Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is an author who speaks to the black and blue in America. His most well-known books, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, take a wide look at black communities and reveal complexities, vulnerabilities, and opportunities for hope. Hope that is, in one of his favorite quotes from W.E.B Du Bois, “not hopeless, but a bit unhopeful.” Other muses include James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. In addition to his readings of early American philosophers and contemporary political scientists, Glaude turns to African American literature in his writing and teaching for insight into African American political life, religious thought, gender and class.
Glaude is the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He is chair of the Department of African American Studies, a program he first became involved with shaping as a doctoral candidate in Religion at Princeton. He is the current president of the American Academy of Religion. His books on religion and philosophy include African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction and Exodus! Religion, Race and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America, which was awarded the Modern Language Association’s William Sanders Scarborough Book Prize. Glaude is also the author of two edited volumes, and many influential articles about religion for academic journals. He has also written for the likes of The New York Times and The Huffington Post.
Known to be a convener of conversations and debates, Glaude takes care to engage fellow citizens of all ages and backgrounds – from young activists, to fellow academics, journalists and commentators, and followers on Twitter in dialogue about the course of the nation. His scholarship and his sense of himself as a public intellectual are driven by a commitment to think carefully with others in public. Accordingly, his writing and ideas are cited and shared widely.
Currently Glaude is at work on a book about James Baldwin, tentatively titled James Baldwin’s America, 1963-1972. Of Baldwin, Glaude writes, “Baldwin’s writing does not bear witness to the glory of America. It reveals the country’s sins, and the illusion of innocence that blinds us to the reality of others. Baldwin’s vision then requires a confrontation with history (with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, with whiteness) to overcome its hold on us. Not to posit the greatness of America, but to establish the ground upon which to imagine the country anew.” Democracy in Black has been described in similar terms. Bill Moyers says the book “breathes with prophetic fire,” recently writing, “Democracy in Black is rich in history and bold in opinion, and inconvenient truths leap from every page.”
Some like to describe Glaude as the quintessential Morehouse man, having left his home in Moss Point, Mississippi, at age 16 to begin studies at the HBCU. He holds a master’s degree in African American Studies from Temple University, and a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University. He began his teaching career at Bowdoin College. He has been a visiting scholar at Amherst College and Harvard. In 2011 he delivered Harvard’s Du Bois lectures. In 2015 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Colgate University, delivering commencement remarks titled, “Turning Our Backs.” He is a columnist for Time Magazine and regularly provides commentary on radio and television news programs like Democracy Now, Morning Joe, and the 11th Hour. He hosts the podcast AAS21, recorded at Princeton University in Stanhope Hall, the African American Studies department’s home.
Marjorie Hall Thulin (1910-2009), for whom the annual lecture is named, was a 1931 graduate of the University of Illinois. She enjoyed a successful career in advertising and published poetry and children's literature in addition to editing a book on the history of Glencoe, Illinois.
Mrs. Thulin's desire for students to understand how religion grows and functions in a complex society, especially Christianity in American society, led her to endow a fund establishing the Marjorie Hall Thulin Scholar of Religion and Contemporary Culture. Through this endowment, each year an internationally known scholar of religion and contemporary culture is resident on the Champaign-Urbana campus for several days.