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Thandeka

Biographical Introduction

Rev. Dr. Thandeka received her !Xhosa name, meaning “beloved,” from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984. Thandeka began her career in television production, where she received an Emmy award. Today, she is a Unitarian Universalist minister, scholar, teacher, and the founder of affect theology.

Thandeka is the author of two books, The Embodied Self: Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Solution to Kant’s Problem of the Empirical Self and Learning to be White: Money, Race and God in America. She also contributed to The Oxford University Handbook on Feminist Theology and Globalization and The Cambridge Companion to Schleiermacher.

Thandeka has served on the faculty of several institutions, including San Francisco State University, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Williams College, Harvard Divinity School, Lancaster Theological Seminary, and Brandeis University. She has also been awarded fellowships and visiting professorships at Stanford University, Claremont School of Theology, and Union Theological Seminary.

Affect Theology

Rev. Dr. Thandeka is the founder of affect theology, a school of thought that points to human feeling as the origin of all religious knowing. Thandeka’s affect theology is interdisciplinary in its approach, bringing twenty-first century neuroscience to bear on Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Affekt Theologie. According to Gary Dorrien, affect theology insists that “the human nervous system is the first reference for religious experience.” In other words, religious belief and religious belonging arise not from reason but rather from emotional responses to religious stimuli. Thandeka calls affect theology the study of “the heart of faith,” insisting that it is this heart—rather than doctrine—that binds together liberal religious communities.

A Challenge to Anti-Racism

Thandeka is also well known in Unitarian Universalism for her decision to publicly challenge anti-racism efforts in the UUA. At a workshop during the 1999 General Assembly, Thandeka gave the address, “Why Anti-Racism Will Fail,” later published in the Journal of Liberal Religion. In this address, Thandeka argued that the UUA anti-racism program was: incompatible with the first principle of Unitarian Universalism (the inherent worth and dignity of every person); incorrect in its analysis of power in the U.S. American context; and mistaken in its conflation of white shame with white racism. Many voices offered responses to and critiques of Thandeka’s analysis; however, given Thandeka’s influence in Unitarian Universalism, the effects of her address were widespread.


Works Cited

Anderson, Linda. “Thandeka and Affect Theology: Questions and Answers for Unitarian Universalism.” presented at the Ohio River Group, October 2008. revthandeka.org/assets/thandeka-and-affect-theology.pdf.

Dorrien, Gary. “Schleiermacher and the Embodied Self: Thandeka.” In The Making of American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, & Postmodernity, 1950-2005, 452–55. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Rev. Thandeka. “About Rev. Thandeka.” Rev. Thandeka, 2017 2011. revthandeka.org/about-rev-thandeka.html.

Takahaski-Morris, Leslie, Chip Roush, and Leon Spencer, eds. The Arc of the Universe Is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary. Boston, MA: Skinner House, 2009.

Thandeka. “Why Anti-Racism Will Fail.” Rev. Thandeka, 1999. www.revthandeka.org/assets/why_anti-racism_will_fail.pdf.


Resources Recommended by Harvard Square Library

For more on affect theology:

Anderson, Linda. “Thandeka and Affect Theology: Questions and Answers for Unitarian Universalism.” presented at the Ohio River Group, October 2008. revthandeka.org/assets/thandeka-and-affect-theology.pdf.

For more on Thandeka’s understanding of race and anti-racism:

Thandeka. “Why Anti-Racism Will Fail.” Rev. Thandeka, 1999. www.revthandeka.org/assets/why_anti-racism_will_fail.pdf.

Thandeka, Learning to be White: Money, Race and God in America. New York, NY: Bloomsbury   Academic, 2000.

For responses to Thandeka’s critique of UUA anti-racism efforts:

Takahaski-Morris, Leslie, Chip Roush, and Leon Spencer, eds. The Arc of the Universe Is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary. Boston, MA: Skinner House, 2009.