- The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000
This is an ambitious, engaging, and richly detailed book. In urging us to look at race as a scriptural problem, rather than just a scientific [End Page 237] one, Colin Kidd posits that “interpretations of the Bible and certain branches of the discipline of theology have played an influential role in shaping racial attitudes over the past four centuries” (p. 1). Not only does this force historians of race to shift their focus from scientific racism to racialized theological controversies, it also requires its readers to explore beyond the temporal boundaries with which they might be most comfortable. In other words, Kidd demands not only that we look at race as a theological issue, but also that we take a macro-chronological view of how it has developed from the onset of European expansion to today.
The Forging of Races begins with a brief survey of the most significant scientific explanations of racial difference and provides a useful overview of the various “race as biology” arguments. After establishing the well-known formulation of race as a cultural construction, Kidd then turns to the most important racial controversies within the Bible itself. Although the Bible rarely, if ever, used racialized language, its interpreters have ascribed a racial significance to many scriptural texts, examining everything from the race of Adam to the curse of Ham, and even the ethnicity of Christ himself.
The rest of the book is divided into six thematic chapters that generally follow a chronological order. In the first two chapters, Kidd explains that, as Europeans encountered new peoples during the early modern era, theological concerns circumscribed any efforts to make racial differences inherent or naturalized. While theologians, rather than scientists, had the monopoly on explaining racial differences, they were still operating within an intellectually orthodox paradigm that privileged the unity of the human family and declared any hint of polygenesis (multiple creations) or pre-Adam creation as heresy. Kidd’s chapter on the Enlightenment suggests continuity with, rather than divergence from, these previous efforts to remain within this monogenetic paradigm. Nevertheless, the more skeptical philosophers who were on the radical fringe of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire and other French philosophes, began a sustained attack on biblical texts that would result in a momentary displacement of scriptural authority from racial discourse.
Kidd then tackles how, caught in a nineteenth-century crisis of faith, American defenders of slavery and British imperial ideologues sought to square scientific racism with traditional Christian texts. While poly-genesis might have provided the perfect justification for racial slavery and oppression, Kidd notes that most theologians eschewed it and instead opted for a middle ground that fused an understanding of common creation with biblical proof of the sacred legality of slavery. Building [End Page 238] upon these insights, Kidd then examines the complicated ways in which the architects of Aryan racial ideology employed sacred history and Biblical exegesis to articulate an ideology of difference between the races. Using anthropology and philology to rethink sacred texts, Aryan intellectuals began to argue that religious superiority developed from racial makeup, not the other way around. This rhetorical strategy, in their minds, not only vindicated imperial expansion, but also propagated an attitude of racial hatred that could ultimately justify biblically sanctioned racial extinction. Race and theology were becoming intertwined.
The final two chapters push into the modern era and explore several manifestations of racialized religion. Kidd demonstrates how the nineteenth century’s crisis of faith and obsession with racism collaborated to create new, race-based (though not necessarily racist) religions. The most influential of these was British Israelism, which contended that Anglo-Saxons were in fact the true descendents of the Lost Tribes of Israel and were therefore heirs to all the spiritual blessings and divine covenants that such a pedigree would entail. But Kidd also goes on to explain how the Christian Identity movement, Mormonism, and even the rise...