Distinguished Duke University professor wins 2022 IWU Aldersgate Prize

MARION – John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University is pleased to announce the winner of the 2022 Aldersgate Prize: Dr. Norman Wirzba, This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

The Aldersgate Prize is inspired by the John Wesley Honors College’s commitment to Christian liberal learning. Motivated by this, the John Wesley Honors College awards the Aldersgate Prize annually to celebrate the outstanding achievement of an author whose scholarship challenges reductionistic trends in academia by yielding a broadly integrative analysis of life’s complexities and offering fresh illumination on ultimate questions that can enrich Christian conceptions of human flourishing.

From nearly 60 nominations for this year’s prize, Wirzba’s This Sacred Life was selected for the prize because it best exemplifies this sort of impactful scholarship. This Sacred Life diagnoses the distress of humanity’s current relationship with the earth and prescribes a better way forward founded on a humble embrace of our God-given identity as creatures of the earth.

This Sacred Life opens with an image of the world as we now find it, shaped profoundly by humans’ presence, the Anthropocene epoch of earth’s history. Acknowledging both the positive and negative outcomes of human industry, Wirzba explores the roots of human-caused trauma to the earth, its other creatures, and to humanity itself. He finds a loss of appreciation or even awareness of our God-given nature as creatures of the earth. He notes the trans-humanist urge to rid humanity of this bondage to creatureness, but finds the trans-humanist trajectory to be a colorless path to an empty end. The alternative he presents is an embrace of God’s gift of our life as creatures of the earth, seeking harmonious life together with all creatures of the earth, human and non-human, with the earth itself, and with the Creator of all.

Wirzba calls us to lean into this identity with all the creativity God has given: “The account of humans as creatures loved by God and called to live a self-offering, communion-building life helps us imagine and realize an uncommon possibility: that persons will wake each day alive to the grace and beauty of this world, and supported by a surrounding social, economic and material infrastructure that seeks their flowering…They will know that their best life is to participate in God’s self-offering, hospitable way of being, because that is the way of being that founds and sustains all of life.” 

The Aldersgate Prize selection committee was struck by the majesty of Wirzba’s presentation, fully supported by the depth of his scholarship and the accessibility of his writing. Wirzba writes from an unapologetically Christian mindset, yet he makes no assumption of a commitment in kind on the part of his readers. Rather, he establishes the need for change in a manner accessible to persons of all faith commitments and then humbly recommends a way forward that holds hope for the flourishing of all people.

Norman Wirzba serves as the Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Theology at Duke University Divinity School and is a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. His prior works include Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (2019), Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity (2016), and From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (2015).

Dr. Wirzba will accept the Aldersgate Prize when he visits the IWU campus to deliver an address on his book as part of Indiana Wesleyan University’s Celebration of Scholarship on April 13, 2023.

The selection committee for the 2022 Aldersgate Prize included the faculty of the John Wesley Honors College as well as Dr. Erin Devers (Professor of Psychology, IWU), Dr. Mary Hirschfeld (Associate Professor, Economics & Theology, Villanova University), Dr. Andrew Skotnicki (Professor of Religious Studies, Manhattan College), Dr. Don Sprowl (Associate Provost for Accreditation and Assessment, IWU), Dr. Andrea Summers (Dean of Spiritual Formation and Campus Pastor, IWU), Dr. Noah Toly (Provost, Calvin University), Dr. Willem Van De Merwe (Blanchard Chair in Physics, IWU, Emeritus).

Nominations are open for the 2023 Aldersgate Prize here: http://www.indwes.edu/Academics/JWHC/Aldersgate-Prize/.