Religions, race

Relrac2016 - Contingent Hermeneutics. Collective Identities and Slavery in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam 1 juin 2016

Colloque international - Les religions face aux théories et aux politiques de la «race» (XVe-XXIe siècle)


Contingent Hermeneutics. Collective Identities and Slavery in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Intervenant : Benjamin Braude, Boston College)


One of the colloquium's underlying challenges is that race and racism are terms that are defined by the context in which they are used and abused. Race in the US has conventionally been defined by so-called color. By contrast, race in Europe, despite efforts to establish a so-called physical scientific basis for its definition, has never achieved in mass usage such fraudulent precision. Consequently, the terms particularly in Europe are often so mingled with notions of cultural identity that they are often indistinguishable from religion and religious prejudice or ethnicity and ethnic prejudice. Of course, none of these efforts at definition can attain the universality they claim since the protean nature of human reality is too complicated and contradictory to be put into the neat pigeon-holes of racism. Race does not exist except in the perverse imagination of racism and racists. So the discussion must begin with the racist understanding of a race defined as a large overarching group marked by fixed, collective, often dominationist, and over determined, hereditarianism. The two most important elements of this definition are fixity and hereditarianism. This is the race of the classic racist imagination, politics, and law of nineteenth and twentieth century Euro-America-South Africa. For example, Nazi antisemitism was based ultimately on religion, but its acolytes were convinced that it was a fixed hereditarian category and, even more significantly, acted accordingly. This paper addresses the tortuous ways in which the three Abrahamic religions have constructed
notions of collective identity and the hermeneutics through which they have justified the enslavement of certain groups. In Judaism, this construction has involved the notion of Hebrew Slave versus Canaanite Slave; in Islam, Muslim-born of free ancestry versus Muslim-convert and non-Muslim; in Christianity, such categories are less clearly formulated, though in practice, Christian-born of free ancestry versus non-Christians and converts. However underlying the approach of all three is the convention of taking captives in war. The so-called Curse of Ham is not deeply rooted in any of the Abrahamic religions, but rather it is a Euro-Christian false tradition invented during the early modern era, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, retroactively imposed on ancient and medieval texts. The early modern contingencies that fabricated such anachronistic racist hermeneutics form the main theme of my presentation.

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