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Finally Out! Race: A Theological Account

I have waited for this book expectantly for the last five years or so. It looks to be more than worth it. I just recieved my copy of Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter today. I will be sure to blog about it when I have read it, but for now I don’t want to steal the thunder from David Horstkoetter, who has already done a great job writing two posts on the book. If you care about issues of theology and racialization in the contemporary world, you simply must read this book. It will, I think, quite literally change everything related to theology and race. For a taste of Carter’s earlier work, here are a couple samples.

Here is the book description from the publisher:

In Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.

Carter’s claim is that Christian theology, and the signal transformation it (along with Christianity) underwent, is at the heart of these legacies. In that transformation, Christian anti-Judaism biologized itself so as to racialize itself. As a result, and with the legitimation of Christian theology, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy and global hegemony. In short, Christianity became white. The racial imagination is thus a particular kind of theological problem.

Not content only to describe this problem, Carter constructs a way forward for Christian theology. Through engagement with figures as disparate in outlook and as varied across the historical landscape as Immanuel Kant, Frederick Douglass, Jarena Lee, Michel Foucault, Cornel West, Albert Raboteau, Charles Long, James Cone, Irenaeus of Lyons, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor, Carter reorients the whole of Christian theology, bringing it into the twenty-first century.

Neither a simple reiteration of Black Theology nor another expression of the new theological orthodoxies, this groundbreaking book will be a major contribution to contemporary Christian theology, with ramifications in other areas of the humanities.

14 Comments

  1. Nathan Smith wrote:

    I have to say I was surprised to see Carter’s M.Th from Dallas of all places. That in and of itself piques my interest, though perhaps it betrays some false assumptions I have about DTS.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  2. james wrote:

    I don’t know the guy. He must have come after my days at Duke. I hope he’s not a race-denier, you know, ‘race is just a social construct’ type.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Dave wrote:

    From the (admittedly minimal) engagement I’ve seen of the book so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Although, I have an honest biological question. I watched a documentary once that claimed in as many words that there is no biological difference that makes “races” of humans. Is this true? I assume so, but I am probably at a mid-high school level in the physical sciences.

    Regarding Dallas, I read once that Carter is proof that you can come out of a school known as a certain stereotype (DTS would probably be the most obvious example), respect the tradition and yet not fall under it. Maybe I’m butchering what I read, and it’s possible that I read it about someone else, but I am sure it was about DTS.

    I’m looking forward to future posts Halden. Between your blog and flying.farther, I will have to get my fix of this book. I want to read it now but am soon moving to England for the fall semester, and my course load will be much heavier than usual, and I don’t anticipate much time to read casually, and certainly not enough time to read something on this level.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  4. Nathan Smith wrote:

    “Although, I have an honest biological question. I watched a documentary once that claimed in as many words that there is no biological difference that makes ‘races’ of humans. Is this true?”

    Well, that of course how one defines race. =P There are obvious descriptive biological distinctives between races. We can see these in everything from skin color, hair, eyes, etc. So yes, there are biological factors. But these are not hard and fast, and they do not preclude interbreeding, so I agree “race” is overblown from a biological standpoint.

    I think racial lines often follow biological lines (extrenal appearance is the easiest line of demarcation), but I think of race as a sociological issue.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  5. james wrote:

    Race is an extended family. Think of it as a percentage of your family tree going back millenia. Just as certain families in your neighborhood today have certain characteristics (physical, intellectual, emotional etc.) more reliably than others, so with races. Of course we are talking distributions over a bell curve not predictions about individuals, just like with the families in your neighborhood. Children don’t always turn out like the parents. But to consign the similarities of a child to the parent to social construction of ‘family’ would be asinine, yet we are routinely treated to this sort of thing when speaking of race.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  6. wellis68 wrote:

    I am adding it to my book list now!

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  7. Michael Westmoreland-White wrote:

    I have my copy on order. It will be the first major THEOLOGICAL consideration of race since George D. Kelsey’s Racism and the Christian Understanding of Man published in 1965!

    The silence of churches on race and racism (when racism pervades the history of theology, liberal and conservative) is shameful.

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael Westmoreland-White wrote:

    BTW, as a biological concept, race is a fiction. But as a sociological concept, it is not. It is a very powerful social reality and attempts to pretend otherwise, to “transcend race” or “not to see race” are illusory. They are specifically the illusions of the privileged and powerful.

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  9. james wrote:

    Race is a fiction? You know medicine as it becomes genetic takes into account racial ancestry now don’t you? Prevalence of genetic disease and effectiveness of medicines have racial factors or reliable outcomes. There are even racial physical traits I’m sure you’ve seen some. Last I checked physical traits were biological.

    Do you think the fact that the 100m is dominated by people of West African descent for decades on both sides of the Atlantic is for lack of effort of the other groups. Perhaps the white guys in Jamaica just don’t try? Or the Asians? Or might the champions all be members of a ‘race’ with physical characteristics suited to this skill. As with East Africans and the long distances.

    Skin color is a crude proxy for race surely, which is probably your point, but it does no one any good denying the existence of races. They are ancient extended families passing on genetic traits now mixing (which is fine in case your worried). But we are not all made from some biologically-neutral cookie cutter with God painting the rainbows of colors on us only to deceive us.

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  10. Uh, well James, you won’t like the section where Carter deals with what you’re talking about. Kant put a thing forward that was quite similar in many respects and got kicked around — of course part of it was because Kant said the white race was the best, but that critique is not all of Carter’s project. He still would go after the notion the distinguishing of difference by genetic traits as race (or family in your definition of race), noting that it is still predicated on the notion of the legitimacy of modernist racial categories, which Carter talks about as well as part of his main thrust.

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I think the point that people want to make is that there is no quantized genetic signature that corresponds in an unequivocal way to race. People who know very little about biology constantly repeating the phrase “race is a biological fiction” typically doesn’t come across very well. What exactly is a biological fiction, other than a cipher for making someone look like they are vaguely unqualified to engage in a “real” discussion about race?

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  12. james wrote:

    Hill, perhaps it’s not completely unequivocal, but the genetic signature of racial identity is already useful in criminal investigation:

    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/magazine/16-01/ps_dna

    I think the last line of the story pretty much sums up the opinion of most humanities profs.

    If Kant had seen the mean IQ of Jews and East Asians he clearly wouldn’t have believed white Europeans to be the superior race, at least in an intellectual sense.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  13. Leadryl wrote:

    Hi, I love this blog and the discussions, however, I have to say:

    Christianity is “the white”? Where does this come from? As a member of a diocese in the new GAFCON movement (look it up) I have to say that over 2/3s of Anglicans (not to mention the other churches) are black or asian – and they are the evangelical ones! ‘Christianity is the White” is something that only an American or Brit could say – people who don’t live constantly with the Global South and their churches. Yes, there is a strong colonial vibe in the White Church, which amounts to massive rrogance from a minority over a massive black and asian majority, but to associate “Christianity” with that white minority is reflecting that exact attitude. Safer to say “White Anglo-American Christianity is ‘The White’”. Global Christianity is “The Black”, and this is without any “reimagining” of theology, but simpy by teaching the Bible and the Cross to Hindus, Budhists and Muslims. Sorry for the rant, but I have to say (only having read the blurb) that it sounds like the foundational premis of this book needs rethinking. You want “Black” theology? Look at Peter Akinola – Bishop of half of Africa.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    James, I more or less agree with your arguments in these comments. My qualification there was simply that there is not a one to one mapping of a certain gene cluster with something called blackness. But just because race is complicated biologically doesn’t mean it is fictive. I think people want to jump from “there is no gene for ‘blackness’” to “biological discussions of race are nonsensical” which simply doesn’t follow. Of course, there are plenty of historical instances of really stupid biological accounts/discussions of race. That doesn’t mean that speaking in biological terms about the question represents a slippery slope towards Nazism.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

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