Submission Date

7-21-2017

Document Type

Paper

Department

Religious Studies

Faculty Mentor

Christian Rice

Comments

Presented during the 19th Annual Summer Fellows Symposium, July 21, 2017 at Ursinus College.

Project Description

What does it mean to be a “Christian nation,” a nation which is blessed by God above other nations? This moniker of divinity and chosen-ness has been in some way attached to the American project since its conception, though many in the ensuing years have criticized American life and culture as distinctly un-Christian. Furthermore, what does it mean to be American? To trace citizenship back to the origins of the nation reveals a sense of American-ness which is bound to whiteness. Since our earliest foundations, white supremacy has been in a close symbiotic relationship with our structures of government and American Christianity. This project utilizes the work of theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, James Cone, and Kelly Brown Douglas to explore the connections between the development of whiteness as an American social institution and marker of belongingness and the development of the national identity, an identity which I will argue is at once almost inextricably bound to white supremacy while also deeply tied to a coopted Christianity. Along the way I offer an examination of the theological underpinnings of patriotism and the moral life of a nation, and a brief history of how and why we came to see Jesus so commonly embodied as a white man.

Ultimately, my project seeks to support two entwined theses. I argue that white supremacy as sanctioned and justified by a racialized understanding of Jesus and divinity was essential in nation building and the cultivation of the American identity. But perhaps more significantly, I hold that we must stop thinking about white supremacy as simply a racist ideology, and instead turn to a more nuanced understanding of white supremacy as an essential American theology that elevates the white body to a position which is sacred, chosen, and closer to God.

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