Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: White Men's Magic: Scripturalization as Slavery

Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: White Men's Magic: Scripturalization as Slavery

Article excerpt

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White Men's Magic: Scripturalization as Slavery . By Vincent Wimbush . New York : Oxford University Press , 2012. xii + 294 pp. $65.00 cloth.

Book Reviews and Notes

Other than autobiographies by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written By Himself is probably the most widely known freedom narrative. According to Vincent Wimbush, Equiano's two-volume work should be particularly interesting to scholars of religion and race. It was not simply a conversion narrative or a travelogue through the violent contact zones of the colonial Atlantic world. Rather, in it Equiano identified how the British created an overarching social-political and discursive regime rooted in the Bible. After unmasking this regime--a process and product that Wimbush calls "scripturalization"--Equiano then crafted an anti-colonialist religiosity that allows readers to move beyond white supremacist colonial faith structures.

White Men's Magic does not follow Equiano's entire life. It centers instead upon several key moments in his narrative. There is Equiano's juxtaposition of the British and the Igbo to show how both relied on senses of the sacred to define their realms. Then, there is Equiano's conversation with a Catholic priest where he highlighted the literary Bible-centeredness of British Protestantism and described why Catholicism did not appeal to him. Equiano's encounter with a tribe of Native Americans in Jamaica is a third touchstone moment for Wimbush where Equiano identified himself as "almost an Englishman."

From these moments Wimbush suggests that Equiano recognized British Protestantism's fetishization of the Bible and how it created an entire sphere of meaning, orientation, law, discourse, mores, and rules. Living within such a regime, one must not only become literate to understand or subvert the social norms, but also recognize the powerful functions of literacy. She or he must not only refashion Protestant Christianity, but also first comprehend how it politically bonded British peoples into a nation-state. Finally, for Equiano, these recognitions allowed him to have a "conversion" experience where he converted neither to God nor God to himself. Instead, his conversion was the creation of a new set of eyes and texts that could undermine whites' hegemony through mimetic parody. …

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