Howard Thurman's Mystical Activism: Connection, Alienation, and Black Vitality / Sameer Yadav
Play • 11 min

"A strange necessity has been laid upon me to devote my life to the central concern that transcends the walls that divide and would achieve in literal fact what is experienced as literal truth: Human life is one and all humans are members of one another" (Howard Thurman, The Luminous Darkness). Sameer Yadav honors Howard Thurman, minister, theologian, philosopher, civil rights activist. Thurman was the author of the influential book, Jesus & the Disinherited, which Martin Luther King, Jr. was known to carry around with him. 

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Show Notes

  • Belonging and connectedness
  • The trauma of alienation in the Jim Crow segregation
  • Vitality of Christian faith and Black Christian resistance to slaveholder Christianity
  • "The humanity we share with Jesus is one that cannot be reduced or dominated, but holds a value in union with God that goes beyond any attempt we can make to manipulate it for our own purposes."
  • Thurman’s ministry and theology represents the bringing together of these three themes: (1) divine common ground with all living things, (2) the devastating effects of social injustice on human personhood, and (3) sharing in the humanity of Jesus uniquely revealed in the history of Black suffering and the resilience of Black joy.
  • Christian mystical tradition
  • Influenced by Ghandi’s approach to non-violence (soul force)
  • Jesus and the Disinherited—finding the inward strength to stand up to oppression
  • Mysticism and activism belong in vital connection with each other
  • Thurman’s impact on Martin Luther King, Jr. at Boston University
  • MLK was known to carry a copy of Jesus & the Disinherited with him wherever we went.
  • From Preface of Luminous Darkness (1960): "The fact that 25 years of my life were spent in Florida and in Georgia has left deep scars in my spirit and has rendered me terribly sensitive to the churning abyss separating white from black. Living outside of the region, I am aware of the national span of racial prejudice and the virus of segregation that undermines the vitality of American life. Nevertheless, a strange necessity has been laid upon me to devote my life to the central concern that transcends the walls that divide and would achieve in literal fact what is experienced as literal truth: Human life is one and all humans are members of one another. And this insight is spiritual and it its the hard core of religious experience. My roots are deep in the throbbing reality of Negro idiom and from it I draw a full measure of inspiration and vitality. The slaves made a worthless life—the life of chattel property, a mere thing, a body—worth living. They yielded with abiding enthusiasm to a view of life which included all the events of their experience without exhausting themselves in those experiences. To them this quality of life was insistent fact because of that which deeply was within them. They discovered God, who was not or could not be exhausted by any single experience or series of experiences. To know God was to live a life worthy of the loftiest meaning of life. People of all ages and times, slave or free, trained or untutored, who have sensed the same values, are their fellow pilgrims, who journey together with them in increasing self-realization, in quest for the city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God.” 

About Sameer Yadav

Sameer Yadav (Th.D. Duke Divinity School) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. His research areas are in the philosophy and theology of religious experience, race and religion, and the theological interpretation of Scripture. He is the author of The Problem of Perception and the Experience of God: Toward a Theological Empiricism (Fortress Press, 2015), a number of articles published in various journals such as The Journal of Analytic Theology, Faith and Philosophy, and The Journal of Religion among others, as well as a number of chapters in edited volumes.

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