In-person & online
Online Course Details
Meeting ID: 815 8356 8559 | Passcode: 662210
Throughout the long history of the Church, Christian sacred texts have been used as a way of promoting both racial justice and racial discrimination. During the earliest period of European colonial history, Christian theology was co-opted by those who sought to provide an ethical warrant for genocide. It was also used by those who sought to defend the dignity of indigenous people. During the nineteenth century, Christian theology was used by those who wished to defend the practice of slavery but also by abolitionists. In the twentieth century, white nationalist groups vaunted their Christian identity but Christian thought and texts were also used by those who fought against racism. This course explores the complex interaction between Christian theology and race over the course of two thousand years of Church history.
Week 1: Race and the Bible
The Biblical narrative starts with the story of humanity’s common ancestor: Adam. The book of Genesis describes the peopling of God’s creation with different peoples. The story of the Tower of Babel explains the existence of diverse cultural and linguistic groups, while the descendants of Noah are seemingly described as the progenitors of different ethnic groups. At the same time, the Hebrew Bible tells the story of a ‘chosen people’: Israel. In the New Testament, meanwhile, this concept is exploded, with a new focus on the claim that there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek… for all are one in Christ Jesus.’ This section of the course explores the theme of race as it appears in the sacred texts of Christianity, asking whether there are any aspects of the text which could reasonably be described as racist, or – alternatively – whether the text has been the subject of abuse by racist readers.
Week 2: Anti-Semitism and Medieval Church
Anti-Semitism is sometimes referred to as the oldest form of racism. Prejudice against Jewish people is rooted in a medieval ideology, which was itself intertwined with Christian ideas regarding the relationship between Christians and Jewish people. Anti-Jewish bias during the medieval period drew upon Biblical texts and particularly upon the claim that Jewish people were accursed. This ideology provided the basis for the segregation of Jewish people, for their persecution and – periodically – for their murder. This section of the course explores the ways in which Christian theology was manipulated over many centuries in order to facilitate the phenomenon of Christian anti-Semitism.
Week 3: Christianity and early European Colonialism
The age of discovery, which arose in the fifteenth century, was also the dawn of European colonialism. For the next four-hundred years, European settlers colonised and exploited vast swathes of territory in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Often this enterprise was defended in the name of Christianity and evangelisation. Cultures and human lives were destroyed in order that the Church could expand its reach across the known world. At the same time, voices from within Christianity – like Bartolomé de las Casas and Matteo Ricci –celebrated and defended the dignity of the cultures which they encountered during this period. They applied the principles of the Gospel to these endeavours. This section of the course explores the history of those who sought to destroy non-European cultures and of those who saw the beauty of God in their encounter with the Other during the early-modern period.
Week 4: Christianity and Slavery
The eighteenth century saw the emergence of industrial slavery on a scale never before seen. Millions human beings were captured from the African continent and were tortured, transported and dehumanised by slave traders. The debate over the abolition of slavery led – in part – to Civil War in the United States, a conflict which itself claimed the lives of over 600,000 people. Those who argued that slavery was justified, looked to the Bible for this justification. Meanwhile the effort to abolish slavery was spearheaded by Christians, themselves inspired by the message of the Gospels. This section of the course examines the role played by Christian thought in the rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade.
Week 5: Race and Theology in the Twentieth Century
The pseudo-science of racial difference became influential in the nineteenth century and reached an horrific crescendo with the catastrophe of the Holocaust. Across the European continent and in America, pseudo-science and warped Christian theology was used during this period to mask the evils of segregation and genocidal violence. At precisely the same time, new voices, from previously marginalised communities, were emerging within the Church. They brought a new message, inspired by the Gospels, which called for the destruction of racist ideology and the guarantee of dignity to all people. These voices – among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, James Cone, Desmond Tutu, Thea Bowman and many others – sought to use the power of the Gospel to destroy racism for good. This section of the course navigates the use of Christian sources by racist and anti-racist groups alike during the twentieth and twenty-first century.
Reading - Yves Congar
Reading - Persecution
Reading - Theology and Colonization
Reading Week 4
Reading - James Cone
Aidan completed his PhD at the Divinity Faculty of the University of Cambridge in 2018. During his doctoral studies he ran as a Parliamentary candidate for the Green Party. He is the author of two academic books: Jewish Christians in Puritan England (2020) and Israelism in Modern Britain (2021). Between 2020 and 2022 he worked as a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at St Mary's University in London.