Whole-Making: Science, Spirituality, Social Change

An Intermediate Level Course from the Center for Christogenesis

A New Intermediate Online Course Offering from the Center for Christogenesis


“Whole-Making”: Spirituality, Science, and Social Change

An Introduction to Howard Thurman’s Commitment to Community


Tuesdays, October 12 – November 16, 2021
6:30pm – 8:30pm ET USA (UTC/GTM-4)

With Dr. Ridgeway Addison

Limited to 30 Participants

Called a “holy man for the new millennium,” Howard Thurman’s vision
of “whole-making” is as important today as it was in his lifetime.


The Center for Christogenesis is offering this course as an opportunity to explore Howard Thurman’s socio-spiritual vision of community as set forth in his seminal text The Search For Common Ground: An Inquiry into The Basis of Man’s Experience of Community (1971). Thurman’s notion of “community,” and related concern for what he termed “whole-making,” have much in common with the 20th century English process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of “concrescence.” “Community” was foundational to Thurman’s personal life and spirituality, as well as his pastoral ministry and related theological writing. His “search for community” was holistic and relentless.

As a minister, pastoral theologian, and “spiritual father” of the American Civil Rights Movement, Howard Thurman (1899-1981) made significant contributions to the religious and ethical life of twentieth-century America. At the time of his death, Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University. He also served as Dean of Rankin Chapel and professor of theology at Howard University in Washington, DC, and Director of Religious Life at Morehouse College. During these tenures, Thurman began a lifelong friendship with Indian satyagrahi Mohandas Gandhi, Indian poet and educational reformer Rabindranath Tagore, and the American Quaker mystic-philosophers Rufus Jones and Douglas Steere.

In recent years scholarly treatment and popular interest in Thurman’s life, thought, and ministry have significantly increased. This year, 2021, marks the 40th anniversary of Howard Thurman’s death. His primary vocational concern “to provide spiritual resources for those involved in the work of social change” is as important today as it was during his lifetime.

If you have any questions, or have any trouble accessing the course after registering, please contact us at info@christogenesis.org


The course will meet on six consecutive Tuesdays from October 12 to November 16. Each meeting will last for two hours, with time allotted for a presentation from the instructor, large and small group discussion, and time for participants to ask questions. Each session will end in a brief period of theological reflection. Each weekly class session will be immediately followed by an optional 30-minute “office hours” session. “Office hours” are intended to allow further informal discussion of the course, particularly related to current events.

While no theological background is required to register, participants are asked to purchase and read Thurman’s short book, The Search For Common Ground: An Inquiry into The Basis of Man’s Experience of Community, as well as shorter, related texts listed below each class description. A PDF of these shorter readings will be supplied to registrants. Links to purchase Thurman’s book will also be provided in your receipt email after registration. During the course participants will be introduced to, and begin to work on, a “Credo” project. This project is an informal spiritual reflection exercise, to provide participants a unique opportunity to reflect on their individual “confessions of spirituality and faith” relative to course topics.

Course Schedule

Session 1 | 10/12
Concerning the Search—Spirituality and Science

This week is all about introductions and overviews.

Our readings will allow us to become better acquainted with Howard Thurman as an American minister, theologian, and citizen, and also initially consider his lifelong search for “community.”

During this first session we will share brief introductions, get to know one another through some Howard Thurman-inspired icebreakers, and review Thurman’s life and work timeline in the context of major socio-spiritual events of the 20th century. We will also consider Thurman’s own interest in always reading “scientific” and “religious” materials in conjunction with one another, paying particular attention to how his practice relates to the mission and vision of the Center for Christogenesis.


  • Brief introduction to Howard Thurman’s life, work, and thought.
  • “Introduction” and Chapter 1: “Concerning the Search” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.


Session 2 | 10/19
“First Things” and “Origin Stories”

This week’s topic…beginning(s).

Our readings will enable us to better understand the value of “origin stories” and questions about “first things” and the important role both play in scientific, theological, and artistic exploration of the myriad purposes, meanings, and related goals of cosmic, planetary, and human life we can unearth in human culture.

During our second session we will focus our attention on exploring Howard Thurman’s interest in origin stories, and his related concept of the process when mind as “mind” developed in our human ancestors. Thurman’s life experience and thinking here will serve as a spotlight for us to more generally explore the benefits and challenges of reading science and religion across one another, particularly as evidenced in the work of other notable process thinkers.


  • Chapter 2: “Search into Beginnings” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.
  • Thurman’s prose poem The Great Incarnate Words.


Session 3 | 10/26
Life’s “Aliveness”

This week is concerned with the “aliveness” of all (living) things. Including all of you as course participants.

Our readings enable us to dive deeper into Howard Thurman’s search for community, specifically as he identified it with the “whole-making” dynamic he believed was inherent in all forms of life at every level of existence. Critical to his thinking here is Thurman’s understanding of life itself as “the Mind of the Creator coming to Itself in Space and Time.”

Our third class session centers on Thurman’s, and our own, experience of being both a “liver”/“experiencer” and an “observer” /“analyzer” of spiritual and historical life. While central attention will be given to our own and Thurman’s individual narratives about being a part of the natural world and larger creation, we will also weave in related concepts and values from the disciplines of religious naturalism and deep ecology.


  • Chapter 3: “The Search in Living Structures” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.
  • A collection of short devotional writings from Howard Thurman and other creation-centered spiritual guides.


Session 4 | 11/2
Enter Religion—Visions, Dreams, and Wounds

This week is focused on visions and dreams related to the various utopias at the center of so many of our axial spiritual traditions. And how personal “spirituality” and institutional “religion,” for better and for worse, factor into what we consider to be our supreme good(s) and who we claim to be our primary [G]od(s).

Our readings allow us to read over Howard Thurman’s shoulder as he, a 20th-century African-American, reads through and reflects on the merits of specific utopian paradigms (Isaiah’s Dream, Plato’s Republic, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, etc.). We’ll also read a few of the South-African poet Olive Schreiner’s related poems. Schreiner’s life and writings significantly impacted Thurman’s life and thought.

Our fourth session prioritizes comparing and contrasting, and also critiquing, religiously inspired “utopias.” It will require us to think more personally and critically about how religious knowledge (doctrine, scripture, theology) and religious practice (ritual, community belonging and leadership) have given rise to the very best and very worst elements of our shared human condition. During this week course participants will work on particular components of their “Credo” project, in line with this week’s readings and class session foci.


  • Chapter 4: “The Search in the Prophet’s Dream” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground
  • Selected poetry from Olive Schreiner.


Session 5 | 11/9

This week is concerned with one (huge) question: As human beings are we more–a part of, or apart from–all other forms of life and existence, including God?

This week’s readings take us on a theological, biological, and cultural tour of the various ways the reified and reifying “setting apart” of various forms and levels of “living things” within life’s existence has, more often than not, negatively complicated ecological well-being and human culture and morality. We’ll read a bit about “Papa Hemingway,” Francis of Assisi’s “wild wolf of Gubbio,” and dig deeper into Thurman’s biographical account of his childhood and adolescence in Waycross, Florida.

This fifth session is centered on the discrepancies between the ideals we, as individuals and groups, have about how connected we are–or should be–with one another and all other forms of life, and the realities of how well or poorly we’ve realized these ideals in our day-to-day ethical, ecological, political, and spiritual commitments. We’ll consider labels for ourselves that best fit how we currently “see” the world through our unique combined lenses of science, spirituality, and culture. Any hopeful cynics, critical realists, or daydream believers out there?


  • Chapter 5: “The Search in the Common Consciousness” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Please Call Me By My True Names.”


Session 6 | 11/16
Common Ground and Social Change

In this final week of the course we will consider Howard Thurman’s hard-won belief that “the (apparent) contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate.” We will consider this belief, as much as it is possible for us to do, for Thurman himself living, ministering, and thinking as he did during the 20th century. We will also consider if this belief of his is one that we would want to, and are able to, adopt for ourselves at this point in our individual and communal human lives.

Our readings bring together primary points of analysis and theological reflection from Thurman’s previous writings encountered during the course. The final chapter in his Search for Common Ground text show us how Thurman, in the final decade of his life, worked to make sense of his belief that life’s contradictions were not final or ultimate while acknowledging the sociopolitical and ecological “images of rupture” he’d lived through and worked on as a minister and public theologian. What were these images of rupture? Racism and segregation. Poverty and materialism. Environmental degradation. Religious conflict and exclusivism. And wartime culture and the standing army.

This sixth and final session allows course participants a three-fold opportunity: 1) To reflect on primary insights, questions, and new commitments they’ve engaged during the course; 2) To consider particular ways in which Howard Thurman’s spiritual vision and leadership practices might be reimagined to heal contemporary “images of rupture;” and 3) To voice their own working “Credo” statements as a means of internalizing course learning as we conclude our studies.


  • Chapter 6: “The Search in Identity” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.


About the Instructor

Ridgeway Addison is a theological educator, learning designer, and spirituality and ethics scholar. He holds a B.A. in Bible and Religion from Erskine College, an MDiv from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from The Catholic University of America.

Dr. Addison is a research specialist on the American minister, educator, and public theologian Howard Thurman (1899-1981) with particular interest in Thurman’s contributions to Christian mysticism, nonviolent theology, and contemplative pedagogy.

Ridgeway works as a learning experience designer at 2U, a global educational technology company which partners with top-tier colleges and universities to create online degree programs, certificate programs, and related digital learning experiences.

Prior to joining 2U in 2019, Ridgeway served in a variety of faculty and chaplaincy roles at Georgetown University in Washington, DC USA between 1999-2015, including being the first theologian to serve Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies as a full-time faculty (2011-2015). He continues to teach clinical bioethics at Georgetown as an adjunct Assistant Professor. Ridgeway is an ordained Baptist minister associated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. A classically trained musician (piano, voice, guitar) and composer, he regularly incorporates music and other arts into his teaching, speaking, and scholarship.Ridgeway is married to the Reverend Sarah Scherschligt, senior pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, VA. They and their two daughters, Magdalene (6) and Lydia (4), live in Northern Virginia.


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