Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity

Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity: An Introduction

EDITED BY Craig R. Prentiss
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 243
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    Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity
    Book Description:

    Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity is the first collection devoted to demonstrating the role that religion and myth have played in the creation of the categories of race and ethnicity. When scholars approach religion and race, they tend to focus on such issues as how African Americans have expressed Christianity, or how Japanese or Mexicans have lived religiously. This volume, meant specifically for those new to the field, brings together an ensemble of prominent scholars and illuminates instead the role religious myths have played in shaping those very social boundaries that we call races and ethnicities. It asks, what part did Christianity play in creating Blackness? To what extent was Japanese or Mexican identity itself the product of religious life?The text, comprised of all original material, introduces readers to the social construction of race and ethnicity and the ways in which these concepts are shaped by religious narratives. It offers examples from both the U.S. and around the world, exploring these themes in the context of places as diverse as Bosnia, India, Japan, Mexico, Zimbabwe, and the Middle East. The volume helps make the case that any account of the social construction of race and ethnicity will be incomplete if it fails to consider the influence of religious traditions and myths. Contributors include: Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Joel Martin, Jacob Neusner, Roberto S. Goizueta, Laurie Patton, and Michael A. Sells.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6837-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Craig R. Prentiss

    The essays in this anthology are intended to provide students, scholars, and anyone interested in our topic with an introduction to the role that religion has played in the creation and shaping of those categories called “races” and “ethnicities.” While the interplay between religion, race, and ethnicity is not a new area of study, this collection is distinctive in its approach to the field. By far, the most common way of dealing with this topic is to explore the manner in which particular “racial” and “ethnic” communities approach religion. Scholars and teachers have tended to focus, for instance, on how...

  5. Chapter 1 “A Servant of Servants Shall He Be”: The Construction of Race in American Religious Mythologies
    (pp. 13-27)
    Paul Harvey

    There are no white or black people as such. The specific ways in which we understand the terms “white people” and “black people” have some roots in antiquity but, as full–blown categories, they are relatively recent inventions. Once the categories of whiteness and blackness emerged in the modern world, however, they took on lives of their own, so much so that “race” became deeply inscribed in Western thought, permeating its religious beliefs, fables, and mythologies. This chapter grapples with the complicated question of how Christianity in America has mythically grounded (and frequently regrounded and revised) modern notions of race....

  6. Chapter 2 Myth and African American Self-Identity
    (pp. 28-42)
    Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

    Religious language has been a critical resource in the construction of African American identity. From the Christian slaves’ identification with the Exodus story to the religious views of the Nation of Islam, African Americans have articulated—through various religious traditions—their own sense of peoplehood, secured for themselves a common history, and imagined a future for their children. These efforts have occurred within the context of a society fundamentally shaped by white supremacy.¹ And, it is precisely in the African American struggle against the dehumanizing effects of racism that their religious imagination served as one of the key sources in...

  7. Chapter 3 Almost White: The Ambivalent Promise of Christian Missions among the Cherokees
    (pp. 43-60)
    Joel Martin

    On July 10, 1817, white missionaries serving at Brainerd, a new mission school in southeastern Tennessee, received a visit from a young Cherokee woman who desired to enroll. The missionaries, New England Protestants sponsored by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, responded with skepticism.¹ The woman’s appearance triggered a strong and negative reaction that revealed much about the missionaries. They felt the woman, whose name was Catharine Brown, “had a high opinion of herself and was fond of displaying the clothing and ornaments in which she was arrayed.”² They later wrote, she “was proud and haughty, loaded with...

  8. Chapter 4 Indigenous Identity and Story: The Telling of Our Part in the Sacred Homeland
    (pp. 61-84)
    Nimachia Hernandez

    This chapter is about Native peoples’ stories and the way these stories shape identity and spiritual practices. I argue that Native American identity is inseparable from the land and the cosmos, and it is from Native experience of the land and the cosmos that our stories emerge. Before addressing those stories, it is important to provide a context for interpreting their significance. This context involves the manner in which Western culture and academics have demeaned Native ways of knowing, and particularly the Native use of story. Discussing this history is an essential step toward gaining an understanding of the role...

  9. Chapter 5 Jew and Judaist, Ethnic and Religious: How They Mix in America
    (pp. 85-100)
    Jacob Neusner

    The Jews in Western democracies, especially in the United States and Canada, form an ethnic group, and in the state of Israel they constitute a nation. They share a common history and memory, seeing themselves as a community of fate, not of faith. For instance, certain food in certain places is regarded as “Jewish,” meaning, a Jewish ethnic specialty. At one time bagels were a Jewish food, so Jews were called “bagel eaters,” just as in ancient times they called themselves “garlic eaters.” But if we know how to bake bagels, we do not necessarily know anything about how Judaism,...

  10. Chapter 6 Blackness in the Nation of Islam
    (pp. 101-111)
    Aminah Beverly McCloud

    Islam, today the fourteen-centuries-old worldview of 1.5 billion people, came to the shores of America in the sixteenth century with African slaves. Researchers estimate that a significant number, 15 to 20 percent of the African slaves sold or kidnapped into the slave trade, were Muslim. The Islamic worldview, with its monotheistic core, is unique in its simplicity. The word “Islam,” in its most comprehensive definition, means the peace that comes with the surrender of the human will to the will of God. Those who believe in Islam, referred to as Muslims, practice a series of disciplines that help them to...

  11. Chapter 7 Theologizing Race: The Construction of “Christian Identity”
    (pp. 112-123)
    Douglas E. Cowan

    “Christian Identity” is the term commonly associated with a number of the more violent white supremacist groups in North America. Among others these include the Aryan Nations, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, The Order, and the Posse Comitatus. While each has its own individual working agenda, all share a common mythology about the origins of race and ethnicity, as well as a common discourse about the meaning that mythology gives to their lives. As a result, sociologically speaking, they constitute less anorganizationwith a set hierarchy and a well-defined leadership than asocial movementof loosely affiliated groups...

  12. Chapter 8 “Loathsome unto Thy People”: The Latter-day Saints and Racial Categorization
    (pp. 124-139)
    Craig R. Prentiss

    Neither of the events mentioned above can be understood outside the context of distinctive conceptions of “race” arising from the binding myths of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Well before the advent of the LDS movement in the early 1800s, the imagined social boundaries that distinguished between “Euro-American” and “Indian,” “black” and “white,” had been marked. But like all such “racial” and “ethnic” distinctions, the meanings they encoded were shaped by a collection of socially specific and historically contingent variables. This chapter explores the manner in whichThe Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of...

  13. Chapter 9 Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Heart of Mexican Identity
    (pp. 140-151)
    Roberto S. Goizueta

    In July 1996 the Reverend Guillermo Schulemburg, the prelate in charge of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, offered his resignation to Pope John Paul II. The resignation followed days of nationwide demonstrations, occasioned by a comment Schulemburg had reportedly made in an interview with an Italian journalist. In that interview, he had discussed the Mexican devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, the indigenous man to whom La Morenita had appeared in December 1531. The abbot of the Basilica was quoted as suggesting that Juan Diego was “a symbol, not a reality.” This...

  14. Chapter 10 Myths, Shinto, and Matsuri in the Shaping of Japanese Cultural Identity
    (pp. 152-166)
    John K. Nelson

    Imagine an inquisitive child in Japan, fresh from the evening bath, asking for a bedtime story about how the world began. Parents in other cultures with rich mythological foundations, such as Native American, African, or even Judeo-Christian ones, could easily recount these ancient tales without too much editing. But a Japanese parent trying to convey the earliest myths in their original forms would be hard pressed not to inflict a terrifying nightmare. Starting with cosmic incest between deities, then a harrowing escape from hell for one of these divine beings as maggot-infested corpses close in for the kill, followed by...

  15. Chapter 11 Islam, Arabs, and Ethnicity
    (pp. 167-180)
    Azzam Tamimi

    When I was commissioned to write this chapter it was suggested to me that my role was to focus on the way in which the binding myths of the Islamic religious tradition have been marshaled in the construction of an “Arab” ethnic identity. The presupposition here was that at the time of the origins of Islam there was nothing comparable to an Arab ethnic (or national) consciousness as there came to be over time, and that Islam itself played a role in the creation of that consciousness.

    Three concepts, which are rather difficult to define, especially in relation to the...

  16. Chapter 12 Cosmic Men and Fluid Exchanges: Myths of Ārya, Varṇa, and Jāti in the Hindu Tradition
    (pp. 181-196)
    Laurie L. Patton

    Mythic narrative and ideas about ethnicity in Hinduism are as intertwined as, to use an ancient Indian metaphor, a creeper hugs a pole (Ṛgveda 10.33). For the purposes of this chapter we will define myth and ethnicity along the lines outlined in this book. We will assume that the relationship between myth and ethnicity can work in different directions. A myth can bolster ideas about ethnic identity or a sense of belonging to a particular ethnic group; it can also be used to resist ideas about social divisions. Members of an ethnic group can take up a myth and analyze...

  17. Chapter 13 Religious Myth and the Construction of Shona Identity
    (pp. 197-210)
    Chirevo V. Kwenda

    This chapter attempts to show how clan and superclan Shona identities were forged around the ancestress Nehanda, the Mwari cult, and the linguistic and educational enterprises of various missionary bodies. Of special interest is the role played by the religious myth about Nehanda in the Chimurenga I and Chimurenga II,* as well as in the postindependence nation-building efforts of the Zimbabwean government.¹

    Nehanda is the most important ancestress and powerfulmhondoro(lion spirit) of Zimbabwe. The name of Nehanda surfaces in the oral traditions and myths of origin of the various clans of the Shona people. That there are many...

  18. Chapter 14 Sacral Ruins in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Mapping Ethnoreligious Nationalism
    (pp. 211-234)
    Michael A. Sells

    The genocide and “ethnic cleansing” that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina (hereafter referred to as BiH) from 1992 to 1995 employed religious persecution and religious markers to construct homogeneous, mutually exclusive block “ethnicities” of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. During the campaign, the consensus in the press, in the popular literature, and in much of the scholarly literature was that religion was not an important factor in the violence, and that it was, at most, a screen for political, economic, and social agendas. There were several reasons for this denial: disciplinary prejudices that led some to posit only one valid area of...

  19. About the Contributors
    (pp. 235-238)
  20. Index
    (pp. 239-243)