Academic honour Universität Heidelberg Confers James W.C. Pennington Award

Press Release No. 63/2023
13 June 2024

Academic honour for American historian Christopher Cameron

Historian Prof. Dr Christopher Cameron from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (USA) is the recipient of this year’s James W.C. Pennington Award of Heidelberg University. The scholar is being honoured for his ground-breaking studies on African American history. The award, presented by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Theological Faculty, commemorates the American pastor and former slave, James W.C. Pennington. In 1849 he received an honorary doctorate from Ruperto Carola, making him the first African American to be honoured by a European university in this way. The award ceremony will take place on 18 June 2024 at the HCA.

Portrait: Christopher Cameron

Christopher Cameron has made a name for himself as a historian for his studies on abolitionism, an 18th and 19th century movement to abolish slavery, and on African American intellectual history. According to Prof. Dr Jan Stievermann, whose research field at the HCA is the history of Christianity in the United States, he has recently published highly regarded studies on the development of liberal-Protestant and secular-humanist currents in the African American community. In his current book project entitled “Liberal Religion and Race in America” Prof. Cameron explores the grappling of African Americans with religious liberalism from the 1740s up to 2015. Christopher Cameron was the founding president of the African American Intellectual History Society.

The James W.C. Pennington Award honours distinguished scholars engaged in research on subjects of special importance to Pennington. These include slavery and emancipation, peace, education, social reform, civil rights, religion, and intercultural understanding. The prize, which is being presented for the twelfth time, encompasses a month-long research stay in Heidelberg. The James W.C. Pennington Award is endowed by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation.

Born in 1807, James W.C. Pennington escaped bondage at the age of 18, learned to read and write, and from 1834 was the first Black American to attend classes at Yale University. In 1838 he was ordained a pastor of the Presbyterian Church. At the World Peace Congress in Paris in 1849, Pennington made the acquaintance of the Heidelberg scholar Friedrich Carové, who was so impressed by the American that, the very same year, he persuaded his university to grant Pennington an honorary doctorate in theology.

During the award ceremony on 18 June, Prof. Cameron will give a lecture on “Abolitionism, Secularism, and the Black Intellectual Tradition”. The event will take place at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Hauptstraße 120, beginning at 6.15 p.m.