This book event has gone on much longer than I anticipated, and now we are obviously in the midst of the beginning of the school year. As such, even though we didn’t manage to get through posts on chapter 8 and the epilogue, I think it best to conclude here. My last post wound up raising some broader questions, and we have talked in general terms about chapter 8 in connection with the rest of part III of the book, so hopefully things won’t seem too incomplete.
Here I’d like to open up the floor for any discussion of the remaining parts and particularly of any overarching questions that were not addressed in discussions of individual chapters.
I’d also like to thank Brandy, Xavier, and Anthony for their posts and Jay Carter for his enthusiastic participation in this event.
I’m posting this slightly out of order, as we’ve had a bit of a delay on getting a post for chapter 8.
In this, the final meditation on a patristic figure, Carter claims that the theology of Maximus the Confessor provides a model for anti-colonial theology, insofar as he recognizes “tyranny” as a core manifestation of sin. For Carter, this means that he is a subversive theologian, reading against the dominant social order, in a way that he claims is similar to the theological style he has uncovered in the antebellum slave narratives he investigates in part III of the book.
The bulk of his argument is taken up with demonstrating that Maximus’s theology is premised on a mutual openness between God and creation that then issues into a mutual openness among created beings — a logic that is counter to the self-enclosed and self-worshipping logic of modern racial thought, in which white supremacy claims to define all others while remaining self-defined. As an exposition of Maximus’s theology, this is very interesting and compelling and in fact makes me want to return to Maximus and study him further.
There are several weaknesses in this postlude, however, which are symptomatic of some questionable aspects of the larger argument of the book. Continue reading “Carter book event — Postlude on Christology and Race: Maximus the Confessor as Anticolonialist Intellectual”
In addition to the Introduction to Philosophy course I am also teaching another with the title “Nature, Cosmos, God” (basically a survey of theories of nature in the monotheisms and Darwin). We are going to read some selections from Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed and as I was prepping for that lecture I came across a passage where Maimonides displays some explicit racism. I thought this was interesting in the light of our book event on Carter’s Race because it calls into question some of his claims. I’ll quote the relevant section and then outline some of what I think might be going on here, but I’m no expert in Jewish thought and so am looking forward to what Bruce and Adam might have to say. Continue reading “Maimonides and the Whiteness of Jewish Philosophical Theology”
In this chapter, Carter continues his “investigation about an emerging Afro-Christian sensibility struggling with and against modernity” by looking at the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass (286). Douglass, for Carter, provides further theological insights in that, whereas “Easter delivers Hammon back into captivity, Douglass’ 1845 Narrative struggles to undo this moment so that Easter will yield freedom rather than recapitulate him into bondage.” (286). Carter here is particularly focusing on Douglass’ religious critique of how America defined who he was, which proves instructive for two reasons. First, it points to the contradictions that become embroiled in emancipatory politics of identity—how “such a politics often repeats the form of the self that needs overcoming,”—and second, those contradictions illuminate how theological discourse is bound up in this, and how it contributes to the problem (287).
Continue reading “Carter Book Event: The Death of Christ: A Theological Reading of Fredrick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative (Chapter 7)”
This is the opening chapter to the final part of the book entitled “Redirecting Race: Outlines of a Theological Program”. The program will provide “theological readings” of three slave narratives. The meaning of theological reading was provided in the preceding interlude on Gregory of Nyssa and in this case the requirement for reading these narratives theologically is to read them against and through the story of Christ. In the case of Hammon’s narrative the task is to both theorize the theological aspect of writing autobiographically and to read the ambiguity of the text faithfully in order to read both the way the narrative re-inscribes itself into a white supremacist narrative as well as the possibility of a narrative of liberation. Continue reading “Carter Book Event: The Birth of Christ: A Theological Readings of Briton Hammon’s 1760 Narrative (Chapter 6)”
This is the second of three sections of the book arguing that patristic thinkers provide resources for overcoming the quasi-theological racial imagination of modernity. The prelude on Irenaeus attempted to establish the ways in which the Gnostics anticipated the modern racial imagination and the ways in which Irenaeus defended against such ideas, above all (Carter argues) through insisting on the Jewish, bodily existence of Christ. Now this section, which provides a kind of threshold to Carter’s constructive account of antebellum black Christianity, focuses on Gregory of Nyssa, who rejected the legitimacy of slavery and called for the manumission of all slaves.
Continue reading “Carter book event: Interlude on Christology and Race: Gregory of Nyssa as Abolitionist Intellectual”
Carter focuses on the work of Charles H. Long, a historian of religion in the school of Eliade and Corbin, but with a political bent towards the oppressed rather than directed to the probably racist kind of higher man you find in Eliade (and to a lesser extent Corbin). As in the preceding chapters the purpose of engaging with Long is not so much a commentary on Long’s work, but using the work of that figure as a test-case for some aspect of dealing with the problem that arises in theology concerning race. That is what is it that makes theology white. I’m not very familiar with Long’s work and so my remarks will focus on Carter’s casting of this test-case, rather than assessing his reading of Long as such, but that seems faithful to the methodology of the project anyhow.
Long provides a corrective for Carter to Tillich’s theology, for it challenges the dominance of theology over religion. This challenge is what both appears to attract Carter to Long’s theory and what he wants to ultimately reject. The difference between theology and religion is understood here to be analogous to the difference between language and act, such that theology is the language that expresses the meaning of religion. Where the religion is always more than this expression, being the experience, expression, motivations, intentions, behaviors, styles, and rhythms of a community. Like Eliade, Long values the myth and expression than symbolic expression more than the theology or structure of thought that attempts to organize more clearly that community’s beliefs. Carters problem with this ultimately will be that Long’s theory of religion cannot account for the other, signifying both God and other creatures for Carter, and instead the other is always just a way to gain self-knowledge. In other words, for Carter, Long isn’t Christological (i.e. Kenotic) enough. Continue reading “Carter Book Event: Signifying Race: Charles H. Long and the Opacity of Blackness (Chapter 5)”