“Race, Religion, and the Chains of Human History”
This paper is provoked by the question posed by the organizers of the SORAAAD workshop committee, “How do we revisit the data of human history?” An initial response to the question might begin with the gratuitous query: “Who is ‘we’?” Following Omi and Winant’s claim that concepts of race “structure state and civil society” and “shape both identities and institutions in significant ways,” questions about access to, interpretation, representation, and certainly the delimiting of what constitutes “the data” is fettered by the burdens of race even as the question is posed. What can it mean to interrogate race in “human history” from within an academic discipline whose racial supremacist origins in colonialism and violence can at times be conveniently shackled and hidden beneath the irenic tactics of dialogue, comparison, Perennialism, multi-faith universalism, or set aside under the lock and key of objective scientific inquiry. Now that race has become a normalized, legitimate topic in the academic study of religion how can these “containment” strategies in the study of religion be avoided, or at least be confronted? Is there a way to revisit the data of human history and decouple the parts of a seamless, teleological, and often described liberal Protestant narrative of human freedom, flourishing and salvation?
Taking an Asian American religion perspective this paper considers the relationship between race and religion as linked through the particular history and experience of Japanese Americans. The role Japanese Americans occupy in the dataset of American race relations, and especially their responses to a history of discrimination, violence and internment suggest that race and religion may be operate in similar ways, or perhaps as tethered dynamics shackled by “chains of memory.” Set within the enclosure of U.S. religion, how do the conjoined dopplegangers “race” and “religion” in Japanese America instruct us in how to approach the data of human history?
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