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Desmond Tutu

A Spiritual Biography of South Africa's Confessor

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Westminster John Knox Press
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The first biography of its kind about Desmond Tutu, this book introduces readers to Tutu’s spiritual life and examines how it shaped his commitment to restorative justice and reconciliation.

Desmond Tutu was a pivotal leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and remains a beloved and important emblem of peace and justice around the world. Even those who do not know the major events of Tutu’s life—receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, serving as the first black archbishop of Cape Town and primate of Southern Africa from 1986–1996, and chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1995–1998—recognize him as a charismatic political and religious leader who helped facilitate the liberation of oppressed peoples from the ravages of colonialism. But the inner landscape of Tutu’s spirituality, the mystical grounding that spurred his outward accomplishments, often goes unseen.

Rather than recount his entire life story, this book explores Tutu’s spiritual life and contemplative practices—particularly Tutu’s understanding of Ubuntu theology, which emphasizes finding one’s identity in community—and traces the powerful role they played in subverting the theological and spiritual underpinnings of apartheid. Michael Battle’s personal relationship with Tutu grants readers an inside view of how Tutu’s spiritual agency cast a vision that both upheld the demands of justice and created space to synthesize the stark differences of a diverse society. Battle also suggests that North Americans have much to learn from Tutu’s leadership model as they confront religious and political polarization in their own context.

Michael Battle is Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York, and President and CEO of the PeaceBattle Institute. The author of eleven books, including Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu, he focuses his ministry on nonviolence, Christian reconciliation, human spirituality, and Ubuntu (the African worldview of community). Battle lived in residence with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa for two years and was ordained a priest in South Africa by Tutu in 1993. In 2010, he was given one of the highest Anglican Church distinctions as "Six Preacher." For more information, visit his website at
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“Much has been written about Desmond Tutu, some of it by Dr. Michael Battle. But in this important work he gives us something very special indeed, moving beyond any political lens and instead revealing the interpersonal spirituality that lies at the heart of Tutu’s prophetic and political action. In these pages, we see a familiar friend in a fresh light. And that light shining through him is a light that comes from God, which no darkness can overcome.” —The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Author of Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

“This is a profoundly beautiful and necessary contribution to learning from one of our wisest leaders in a new generation and a changed world. We are immersed in the rich spiritual and theological intelligence that formed Tutu’s singular agency in one of humanity’s most extraordinary social transformations. Just as importantly, as Michael Battle engages with the life of his teacher and friend, he models a spirituality towards the social courage and creativity that this century demands.”—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO of The On Being Project and Host of On Being and Becoming Wise

“Michael Battle has not only given us a powerful framing of Desmond Tutu’s spiritual life—one that will be studied for many years—but he has also made clear what it means to see someone as a saint who lives not in unapproachable light, but in the real struggles of this world where God is to be found and known. Battle knows that world as well as he knows Desmond Tutu and it is from the deep well of knowledge of both God’s ways of justice and one of God’s humble servants that he offers us this gem of a book.” —Willie James Jennings, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies, Yale University

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