Grawemeyer Award in Religion

The Grawemeyer Award in Religion is made possible by the creative generosity of the late H. Charles Grawemeyer. Louisville Seminary, jointly with the University of Louisville, awards the $100,000 prize to honor and publicize creative and significant insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine. The award also recognizes ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community.

2022 Winner: Duncan Ryuken Williams

Work describing Buddhists’ faith despite confinement wins Grawemeyer religion prize

Duncan Ryuken Williams

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A scholar who explained how Japanese American Buddhists remained true to their faith even after being forced into U.S. detention camps during WWII has won the 2022 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

Duncan Ryuken Williams, a religion professor who directs the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California, won the prize for ideas set forth in “American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War,” his 2019 book published by Harvard University Press.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forcibly relocated more than 125,000 people of Japanese ancestry and imprisoned them in detention camps on U.S. soil. Two-thirds were practicing Buddhists.

Some were sent to live in former fairgrounds where stables were hastily converted into living quarters. Others were crowded into dwellings of tarpaper-roofed, Army-style bunkers. Many lost their homes, farms and businesses along with their possessions.

As Williams reviewed diaries and other records of their stay in the camps, he learned Buddhists continued to worship even in confinement. One family celebrated Buddha’s birthday by pouring coffee over a carrot carved in his likeness when they could not perform the traditional ritual of pouring tea over a Buddha statue.

“Their imprisonment became a way to discover freedom, a liberation that the Buddha himself attained only after embarking on a spiritual journey filled with obstacles and hardships,” he said.

The Buddhists’ steadfast devotion to faith in such conditions showed it was possible to be both Buddhist and American and helped launch a less sectarian form of the religion in the United States, Williams found.

“Williams’ work opens the way for a discussion that values religious inclusion over exclusion,” said Tyler Mayfield, who directs the Grawemeyer religion award. “He shows how Japanese Americans living in a time of great adversity broadened our nation’s vision of religious freedom.”

The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give the religion prize. Recipients of next year’s Grawemeyer Awards were named this week pending formal approval by university and seminary trustees. The $100,000 prizes also honor seminal ideas in music, world order, psychology and education. Winners will visit Louisville in April to accept their awards and give free talks on the winning ideas.

We invite you to watch the recorded lecture of the 2022 Grawemeyer Award in Religion winner.


Grawemeyer Religion Award Nominations are invited from religious organizations, appropriate academic associations, religious leaders and scholars, presidents of universities or schools of religion, publishers and editors of scholarly journals. Self-nominations are be accepted or considered. There is no discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief or lack thereof. Previous winners are not eligible for subsequent awards.

For more information, contact Dr. Tyler Mayfield.
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
1044 Alta Vista Road
Louisville, Kentucky 40205-1798
Telephone: (502) 992-9375
Fax: (502) 894-2286

Or see for more information.

Past Grawemeyer Award in Religion Winners

E.P. Sanders
Jesus and Judaism

No Winner

Larry L. Rasmussen
Earth Community, Earth Ethics

No Competition

James L. Kugel
The Bible As It Was

George M. Marsden
Jonathan Edwards: A Life

Marilynne Robinson
Gilead: A Novel

Timothy B. Tyson
Blood Done Sign My Name

Willie James Jennings
The Christian Imagination

No Winner

Stephen J. Patterson
The Forgotten Creed