James W.C. Pennington Award

Jan 17, 2024

In 2011, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Faculty of Theology of Heidelberg University established the James W.C. Pennington Award.

Aim of the Award

The first awards were generously endowed by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation. The prize pays tribute to the African American churchman and former slave James W.C. Pennington, who in 1849 received an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University. Born in 1809, Pennington escaped bondage at the age of eighteen. He learned to read and write, and in 1834 was the first black man to attend classes at Yale University. In 1838 he was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church. At the 1849 World Peace Congress in Paris, Pennington was befriended by the Heidelberg scholar Friedrich Carové. Pennington so impressed Carové that in the same year he persuaded the Heidelberg Faculty of Theology to confer a doctoral degree on the black minister. It was the first time that an African American received this highest academic honor from a European university and perhaps from any university worldwide.

The James W.C. Pennington Award is given to scholars who have done distinguished work on topics important to Pennington: slavery, emancipation, peace, education, reform, civil rights, religion, and intercultural understanding. The award encompasses a month-long stay in Heidelberg to engage in research on and discuss these topics. On the occasion of the award ceremony, recipients give a public lecture exploring new avenues in their respective fields of research. When the new award was inaugurated in June 2011, US President Barack Obama sent official greetings to the HCA to convey his gratitude for the initiative and express his conviction that honoring Pennington’s achievements would inspire future generations of Americans and Germans.

The first James W.C. Pennington Award was bestowed on Albert J. Raboteau, Henry Putnam Professor of Religion at Princeton University, on June 14, 2012. Professor Raboteau’s ceremonial address at the Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais was entitled “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement as Precedent for Religion in U.S. Politics.” During his stay Professor Raboteau also taught a seminar on African American religious history together with Professor Jan Stievermann. Albert J. Raboteau earned his Ph.D. in religious studies in 1974 at Yale University after completing degrees at Loyola University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley. He has been teaching and conducting research in Princeton since 1982. In his published works, Professor Raboteau focuses mainly on American and African American religious history and immigration issues.


  • 2023: Melvin L. Rogers.
  • 2022: Manisha Sinha.
  • 2021: Carol Anderson.
  • 2019: Paul Harvey.
  • 2018: Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.
  • 2017: Harry S. Stout.
  • 2016: John Witte, Jr.
  • 2015: William L. Andrews.
  • 2014: Laurie Maffly-Kipp.
  • 2013: Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.
  • 2012: Albert J. Raboteau.