“Race, Identity and Nation”
written by Dr Rhamie
Senior Lecturer, Ethnicity and Culture in Early Christianity & Contemporary Praxis Director of Field Education
The pandemic of Covid-19 has catapulted us into a ‘new normal’ in how we spend our time, occupy space, value money, education and jobs, do church and relationships, and how we look at each other.
This latter – how we look at each other – especially comes on the back of another age-old pandemic: racism. It is racism that has given cause to the invention of race, and the bible has often been coopted by systems of oppression to advance racism, never mind nationalism and identity politics.
‘Race, Identity and Nation’ is an MA module that I teach with Dr Ivan Milanov, an Old Testament specialist. It is a highly popular class not only because of its creativity, but precisely because it speaks to the social issues that we as a society are presently confronting. As such, it affords us the opportunity to examine with some depth themes of race, identity and nation especially in the way they have been extrapolated from the bible. This means grappling with challenges, surprises and opportunities. One such instance is something I didn’t know for most of my life as a Christian: that much of the bible, if not all, was written under the duress or in the aftermath of colonialism. Can you imagine that? What the Old Testament prophets enunciated and wrote, what the gospel writers wrote about Jesus, what Paul wrote to the churches, were all done under the climate of (post)colonialism. Then we’re talking about conflict, resistance, persecution, subversion, courage, assertion, overcoming – and the list goes on. No wonder they called for radical love, justice and hope because their experiences were influenced by imperial oppression, an occupying nation or a religious regime, even Judaism.
What does this mean for reading the bible? For example, how do we interrogate issues relating to Brexit, Black Lives Matter and the toppling of statues? Is God a Brexit–Black Lives Matter–toppling of statues–God? How are we to address issues of race, identity and nation?
In the bible there are direct, written accounts of colonisation, decolonisation, nationalism and ethnocentrism. There are stories of identity formation and identity deconstruction. And this material yields difficult questions of Christianity today, such as: Is Christianity the conduit through which race, gender and sexuality have been exploited, politicised, manufactured, disfigured, demonised and stigmatised? We can’t run away from this, since many in society are already propagating this. We have to speak truth to power. And this is what the bible compels us to do.
Am I piquing your interest? Well, why don’t you consider taking this class, even with complimentary ones, if you like. You can drop me a line, or just bite the bullet and apply on this website. Speak to you soon!