Monday, August 8, 2016

Theodore Vial's "Modern Religion, Modern Race"

Theodore Vial teaches modern western religious thought. He is the author of Schleiermacher: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013), Liturgy Wars: Ritual Theory and Protestant Reform in Nineteenth-Century Zurich ( 2004); and co-editor of Ethical Monotheism, Past and Present: Essays in Honor of Wendell S. Dietrich (2001). Vial received his B.A. from Brown University and both M.A. and Ph. D. from The University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Modern Religion, Modern Race, and reported the following:
Modern Religion, Modern Race makes the case that “religion” and “race” share a common genealogy. Because of this religion is a racialized category, even when race is not explicitly on the table. This is true both of the way people on the street think about and use the concepts of religion, and of scholars of religions who use the category to underpin their comparisons.

To understand how these concepts shape the modern world in ways we mostly take for granted, it is important to extend our genealogies past the Enlightenment (where most historical work on these concepts culminates) into the post-Enlightenment generation of early German romanticism. It is here that our ideas about culture and human nature take the shape they continue to have today.

Page 99 is a discussion of José Casanova’s important work on the secularization thesis. Casanova argues that what is distinctive about religion in the modern world is not that it is in decline, but that it is differentiated from other spheres of human activity such as politics, economics, and science. While I agree that differentiation is an important feature of modern religion, I argue that modern religion is not fully formed when this differentiation has taken place. The discussion continues on page 100: we “think of religion as not simply a matter of conscience, but as an orientation that goes to the very core of our identity, an orientation that shapes the whole person. We link religion to social and cultural groups.”

In later chapters I show how religion as a racialized category can be dangerous. One analyzes what Friedrich Schleiermacher has to say about the religion of the indigenous Australian peoples, and about Judaism in Prussia. Another shows how the same patterns of thought shape contemporary work in religious studies.

If readers turn to page 99 I hope that, in addition to the specifics of the argument I make, they will see the results of the effort I have made to render the complex arguments of people like Casanova (and also Kant, Herder, Schleiermacher, Friedrich Max Müller, etc.) in clear and engaging prose.
Learn more about Modern Religion, Modern Race at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue