Yale Professor Wins Grawemeyer Religion Award for Book on Exclusion and Identity

Yale University theologian Miroslav Volf has won the 2002 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book “Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.”

Volf, who is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at the Yale Divinity School, explores the human inclination to spurn those of different religions, cultures and ethnic background in his book.

He argues that exclusion of people who are alien or different is among the most intractable problems in the world today, and he proposes new approaches to overcoming the problem.

The annual $200,000 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion is given jointly by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville to the authors or originators of creative works that contribute significantly to an understanding of “the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community.”

A Croatian by birth, Volf takes as a starting point for his analysis the recent civil war and “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, but he finds other examples of cultural, ethnic and racial conflict to illustrate his points.

Exclusion happens, Volf argues, wherever impenetrable barriers prevent a creative encounter with “the other.” Modern Western societies typically recite their histories as “narratives of inclusion,” but Volf points out that these narratives omit certain groups who “disturb the integrity of their ‘happy ending’ plots.” Such narratives invite gruesome counter-narratives of exclusion, such as the brutal histories of slavery and of the decimation of Native American populations.

Most proposed solutions to the problem of exclusion have focused on social arrangements-what kind of society can be created to accommodate individual or communal difference? Volf’s focus is not on developing social strategies or programs, but rather on showing new ways for people to understand their relation to their enemies. He suggests new possibilities for living without violence, injustice and deception.

Volf began his theological training at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Osijek, Croatia, where he later taught from 1984 to 1991, and where he serves as a visiting professor of systematic theology. He earned a master’s degree from the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a doctorate from the University of TŸbingen in Germany.

Volf is the author of more than 50 theological articles and nine books. He frequently contributes editorials and articles to popular publications, notably Christianity Today. His works have been translated into numerous languages, including Dutch, Croation, Spanish, Hungarian and German, and he is often invited to speak on exclusion as a source of social conflict and ways of overcoming it.

Volf had just delivered a lecture on that subject to a prayer breakfast at the United Nations when the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11. He will present a lecture and receive his award in Louisville during the first week of April 2002.

Charles Grawemeyer was an industrialist, entrepreneur and University of Louisville graduate who had a lifelong passion for music, education and religious studies. The Grawemeyer Foundation awards $1 million each year, $200,000 each for works in music composition, education, ideas improving world order, religion and psychology.

For more information on Volf and other winners, visit: www.grawemeyer.org.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345