Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Masson, Robert L.

Second Advisor

Long, Duane S.

Third Advisor

Massingale, Bryan N.

Abstract

Theologian James Cone has declared that White supremacy is the American Church’s greatest, original, and most persistent sin. Although the Church has engaged in numerous attempts to remedy racism, theology still seems to witness to a God that stands relatively unopposed to the status quo of racial injustice and marginalization. This dissertation begins with the claim that Christian theology still operates from the normativity of whiteness. I will argue that, although the Church has made admirable progress with regard to racial justice, the attempts have been at the surface: the underlying structural logic of White supremacy remains intact. My thesis will be that the systemic problem in North American Christianity of a persistent “White privileged theology” or “normalized whiteness” can best be eliminated by constructing a theological response in classical categories—theodicy, anthropology, and epistemology. A black existential phenomenological approach—perhaps best illustrated in the work of Lewis R. Gordon—and the intersectional analysis exemplified in critical race studies, offer significant promise for exposing and correcting the existing methodological privilege of White theology. First, this project begins with the challenge presented in William. R. Jones’ Is God a White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology. In this provocative work, Jones contends that Black suffering vis-à-vis God’s divine justice should form the methodological core of any theology that purports to support economic, social, and political justice. In taking up Jones’ challenge, I argue that the theodical question can be foregrounded without the humanist conclusions that Jones draws. Second, I look at the anthropological question of who counts as human before God. Focusing on how scholars of color have always prioritized an anthropological structuring of humanity that does not traffic in universal notions of value, I argue for a theological anthropology that specifically opposes the dehumanizing axiological systems that denigrate those who deviate from the normativity of whiteness. Thirdly, this dissertation looks at epistemology as a framing device for how some people are seen, mis-seen, or not seen at all. In particular, I evaluate how the Church has been complicit in the rendering of some as invisible or less worthy of concern.

Share

COinS