American University: The Grammar of Black Politics

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1907

Political Theory Institute: “The Souls of Black Folk: Double Consciousness and the Grammar of Black Politics”


The Political Theory Institute at American University, a JMC partner program, will be hosting Terrence Johnson to speak on Black American political thought and “double consciousness.”

Black political thought remains haunted by a question raised more than a century ago by W.E.B. Du Bois: ‘how does it feel to be a problem?’ To answer this question about the ‘strange meaning of being black’ in America, Du Bois conceived the idea of ‘double consciousness,’ his attempt to ‘theorize’ the double aims of the white/black racial binary as well as to show how the dialectic creates the conditions for discovering a ‘truer’ self, one that is not bound by or destined to reinforce antiblackness. To this end, double consciousness is a fundamental epistemic resource for framing the grammar of Black political thought.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 • 5:30 PM
Mary Graydon Center, Rooms 3-4 • American University

Free and open to the public – RSVP to

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Terrence Johnson is Associate Professor of Religion and Politics in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. He is the author of Tragic Soul-Life: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Moral Crisis Facing American Democracy (Oxford 2012) and serves as co-editor of the Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People book series published by Duke University Press. Professor Johnson has recently completed a second book manuscript, We Testify with Our Lives: Black Power and the Ethical Turn in Radical Politics, and is completing a co-authored manuscript with Jacques Berlinerblau on Blacks and Jews following the emergence of the Black Lives Matters movement tentatively titled Now Is the Time: Blacks, Jews and the Struggle to Rescue Global Democracy (under contract with Georgetown University Press).

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The Political Theory Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs encourages the serious study of the great questions of political theory and brings insights of political theorists to bear on current issues and events. American University has a long tradition of vigorous political debate. Behind every serious political controversy, however, lies a disagreement about political principles, justice, what constitutes “the good life,” or fundamental assumptions about human nature. A thoughtful and morally serious engagement with the controversies of the day, therefore, requires serious reflection on the underlying questions of political theory.

Open to all ideas and perspectives, the Political Theory Institute promotes vigorous and thoughtful discussion and critical engagement by American University faculty, the national and international political theory community, and policy makers with the problems confronting liberal democracies. It supports scholarship that informs and enriches the larger conversation about political ideas. Above all, the Political Theory Institute fosters a spirit of enlightened citizenship—at once thoughtful and engaged—that takes intellectual disagreements seriously without being ideological.

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