Recognizing Race in an Ecclesiology of the Built Environment

Edward Dernehl Dunar, Fordham University


Over the past two decades, an interdisciplinary conversation has emerged among theologians, pastors, urban designers, and theorists about the connection between human flourishing and the urban built environment in light of the political, economic, and environmental challenges of the global city in the twenty-first century. Although fruitful in terms of posing civic participation and the physical design of the built environment as relevant concerns for Christian discipleship, this conversation has only lightly attended to the ways in which segregation and racial injustice have shaped urban space in the U.S. context and the role that the church has played in this legacy. To address this gap, this dissertation argues for a more Spirit-centered ecclesiology of the built environment that enacts a deeper engagement with urban theory and Trinitarian theology in pursuit of an awareness of the church’s responsibility to challenge racism and seek racial justice in particular cities and neighborhoods. The proposed ecclesiology of this project consists of two movements. It begins by finding the basis of the church in the Holy Spirit as the principle of reception as described by Ormond Rush and Orlando Espín. It proceeds by recognizing the church’s commitment to human good as a response to God’s grace as described by Bernard Lonergan and elaborated by his later interpreters. The second half of the dissertation considers how the proposal clarifies the church’s recognition of racism and pursuit of racial justice through an examination of case studies. First, I examine the church’s pursuit of racial justice in its institutional engagements through an oral history project in which I consider the formation of theYes in God’s Backyard movement, which guides churches through the process of building affordable housing on their land. Second, I analyze the complicated role that memory plays in including and excluding people from the narrative of neighborhoods through a study of Chicano Park, a site of ongoing community muralism in San Diego. Third, I consider ecclesial practices of community organizing, placemaking, and lament that is expressed through outdoor liturgy and street protest, particularly with reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Subject Area

Theology|Religion|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Dunar, Edward Dernehl, "Recognizing Race in an Ecclesiology of the Built Environment" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13903714.