A conversation between 2 eminent Black thinkers on how to work together to make the world a better place despite deep religious differences
Brad Braxton and Anthony Pinn represent two traditions—Christianity and Secular Humanism respectively—that have for centuries existed in bitter opposition. For too long, people with different worldviews have disparaged and harmed one another. Instead of fighting each other, Braxton and Pinn talk with, listen to, and learn from one another. Their wide-ranging conversation demonstrates the possibility of fruitful exchange that accounts for—rather than masks—their differences.
Written amid the Covid-19 pandemic, threats to our democracy, and national protests for racial justice, A Master Class on Being Human shows us that constructive dialogue can help us pursue the common good without sacrificing our distinctive identities. In conversations that are frank, personal, and deeply informed by scholarship, Braxton and Pinn discuss topics that are urgent and immediate, such as the ongoing violence against Black communities, the rise of religiously unaffiliated communities, the Black Lives Matter movement. They also ponder those broader philosophical and theological questions that inform our politics and sense of what it means to be human: the meaning of religion, the stubborn dilemma of moral evil, the power and problems of hope.
Braxton and Pinn invite us to join them in a master class as they strive to create a world where differences are not tolerated but instead celebrated. In that kind of courageous classroom, all can learn how to be better people who in turn transform the world into a better place.
Brad R. Braxton is President and Professor of Public Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. He is the Founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a culturally inclusive congregation in Baltimore, MD. He formerly served as the Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. He is the author of three books: The Tyranny of Resolution: 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; No Longer Slaves: Galatians and African American Experience; and Preaching Paul.
Anthony B. Pinn is the Director of Research for the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington, DC. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the inaugural Director of the Center for African and African American Studies at Rice University. Additionally, Pinn is the founding Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning (CERCL) also at Rice University. He is the author/editor of over 35 books, including Noise and Spirit: Rap Music’s Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities; Introducing African American Religion; The End of God-Talk: An African American Humanist Theology; and the novel, The New Disciples. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religion at Rice University.
“This book should help many people find fresh ways to navigate issues of disagreement with others.”
—Spirituality & Practice
“This illuminating conversation between a Black Christian theologian and a Black atheist is a seminal text in the emerging field of Black interfaith studies. It is a beautiful model of how to constructively engage on matters of fundamental disagreement even while strengthening collaboration on issues of mutual concern.”
—Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America and author of We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy
“Professors Braxton and Pinn remind us that dialogue between people shaped by and holding diverse, if not disparate, worldviews and life experiences is critical for the well-being of both the body and the spirit, and that such engagement must be based not on the goal of uniformity but on appreciation and affirmation of the differences and distinctions that make us who we truly are. This seminal work is a primer for leaders in all sectors committed to strategically engaging, with ‘curiosity, humility, and respect,’ the seemingly entrenched and immutable conflicts, disagreements, and divisions that characterize so much of today”s society.”
—David Leslie, executive director, Rothko Chapel
“Brad Braxton and Anthony Pinn model the honest questioning, clear articulation of ideas, and willingness to remain engaged needed to move beyond the theist/nontheist divide in search of a shared purpose. A Master Class on Being Human is a call to theists and nontheists alike to bring the best of their resources forward to resist the forces that threaten our shared humanity and existence.”
—Elías Ortega, president, Meadville Lombard Theological School
“Reading A Master Class on Being Human was like an invitation to eavesdrop on two friends in probing and intimate conversation. It is a salve for anyone exhausted by polarization and domination, and a reminder that difference can be a source of connection rather than something to be extinguished.”
—Brie Loskota, executive director, Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Chicago
“We know that avoiding discomfort won’t make us whole and that shutting down disagreement prevents us from growing. But what we don’t know is how to take on these difficult challenges. A Master Class on Being Human helps us answer this critical question, both by sharing profound insights on how we can live in this world together and by modeling how we have meaningful conversations with people who don’t always agree with us.”
—Simran Jeet Singh, author of The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life