Making a Theological Analysis of Race

By Gonzalez, Michelle | National Catholic Reporter, May 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Making a Theological Analysis of Race

Gonzalez, Michelle, National Catholic Reporter

Is racism essentially religion-based? Does the theological construction underpinning the Christian world-view deem whiteness as foundational to creation? J. Kameron Carter argues yes.

He claims that the early Christians, through their attempt to break from their Jewish foundation, created a racialized understanding of themselves that is now fundamental to modern constructions of race, Jews became the "other," and Western Christian identity was created in contrast to that other. Jews became associated with the East, and Christian identity became synonymous with the West. Western civilization became identical to Christianity The West, of course, was deemed superior, laying the groundwork for a Christian understanding of white supremacy Carter's book first outlines the creation of this Western Christian white supremacist category of whiteness, and in the later parts of his book offers a constructive reimagination of Christian identity.

Towering over Carter's work is a larger theological debate about the manner in which theologians have constructed race. He stands in a long tradition of black scholars who challenge white Christians to take race seriously in their theological writings. Almost 10 years ago, James H. Cone, considered by many one of the fathers of black liberation theology, stood before the Catholic Theological Society of America and challenged white Catholic theologians on their silence surrounding racism in the United States. Carter expands that challenge, including his black colleagues in the fold. Race confronts theologians of all races; it is the first of its kind to study race as a theological category. Fundamental to Carter's argument is the insistence that to truly understand race in contemporary intellectual discourse and society at large, a theological analysis of race is necessary Similarly, Carter argues, one cannot understand racism without taking the centrality of religion into serious consideration.

Prior to the publication of Carter's book, black theologians relied heavily on sociological and political constructions of race. In other words, race was not central to the nature of Christian identity One's race was a perspective, both historical and contemporary, through which one approached Christian categories. Race appeared as something on the outside, a lens through which to approach Christianity, one that could be swapped for the lens of gender, sexuality, culture or class.

Carter takes an entirely different approach, arguing that I not only is race a theological category, but that it has been since the first century Theology 'he argues, is part of the intellectual process of the construction of humanity as racialized. The creation of Christian identity evolved in such a manner that one's race became a marker of whether or not one was Christian. Christianity as a whole became aligned to Western Europe.

Carter's book offers a critical engagement of race theory in order to demonstrate that the category of race is religious in nature.

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