Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Race and Ethnicity Discourse in Biblical Studies and Beyond

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Race and Ethnicity Discourse in Biblical Studies and Beyond

Article excerpt


The present study aims to investigate the discourse of race and ethnicity in Biblical Studies and its related fields in a sociological perspective. I claim that one should approach matters of race and ethnicity as analytical categories in an interdisciplinary manner in order to undermine transhistorical and transcultural racism and ethnocentrism, albeit in a specific context, Hellenistic, Roman, Jewish, or Christian. It is my hope that this study will provide an interpretive framework for considering racial-ethnic or ethnic-racial discourse as a dynamic sociocultural construct in religious discourse, biblical or otherwise.1

To do so, I will outline six different models in three fields of socio-logy, while considering Classical/Jewish Studies and Biblical/Early Chris-tian Studies as single units, employing two models for each discipline.2 First, I examine the works of Steve Fenton as well as Robert Miles and Malcolm Brown to look closely at race and ethnicity discourse in the ancient Mediterranean world, especially from a sociological perspective. Before exploring race and ethnicity issues in antiquity, one must be alert to their connotations in modern parlance as ancient texts must also be seen through the lens of the present. In this regard, a sociological frame-work serves as a critical lens to explore race and ethnicity discourse in the ancient world. Second, I highlight how Jonathan Hall and Shaye Cohen deal with Hellenic and Jewish identity, respectively, in relation to ethnic identity in the ancient Mediterranean world. I deliberately combine Classi-cal and Jewish Studies into a single unit since Jewish identity ran a parallel to Hellenic identity in antiquity. It can be observed that Hellenicity and Jewishness as ethnic identities were developed into cultural and religious identities. Last, I examine how Judith Lieu and Denise Buell analyze early Christian identity as a racial and ethnic discourse in the Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman matrix. In earliest Christianity, racial-ethnic iden-tity, as a dynamic, dual discourse, operated rhetorically along in early Christian discourse. In the final analysis, I conclude that identity in general and racial-ethnic identity in particular are by no means stable and static in essentialist terms, but rather they are flexible and fluid along the ostensible axis of the fixity of identity.3

Ethnicity and Race in Sociological Studies

Steve Fenton

In my judgment, a significant contribution of Steve Fenton's Ethnicity is that it clarifies the convergence of and divergence between ethnicity, race, and nation, at the core and at the peripheries.4 At the core, all three concepts have in common "descent and culture" within the modern world's semantic systems.5 All these are "communities" that see them-selves and are seen by outsiders as connected through descent, more precisely, through shared ancestry and culture. As they share descent and culture, all three concepts-ethnicity, race, and nation-demonstrate more detailed convergences. At the peripheries, however, the divergence between race, nation, and ethnicity comes to fore.6 First, race relates to abstractly envisioned categories of humanity with special reference to phenotypical differences. Second, the nation indicates a state or state-like organization at the political level. Third, ethnicity signifies subdivisions within a nation-state, typically based on cultural differences and often-times referred to as a minority group with respect to a society as a whole. Therefore, I affirm that the categories of ethnicity, race, and nation are interrelated at the core but distinguishable at the peripheries.

Furthermore, I observe that Fenton shifts his attention from primor-dialism to constructivism in his understanding of ethnicity. Primordialism, as developed by Clifford Geertz, suggests that ethnic identity is closely connected to social "givens" such as blood, language, religion, and custom. …

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