REL 321 The Bible and Race in the USA

In the journey to become American, communities find themselves having to contend with the Bible and race. The manner of the intersections and negotiations may vary, but the connection is consistent part of the nation’s history. This seminar examines the relationship between these two discourses in the American experiment, giving special attention to how the Bible has served to liberate, captivate, and frustrate the efforts of potential Americans.

“Black Baby Jesus at Xavier,” image by Mark Gstohl.

Core Texts

James Earl Massey, ed. “Reading the Bible from Social Locations: An Introduction,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, eds. Leander G. Keck et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).

We’ll be reading Massey’s essay, along with those from seasoned biblical scholars representing various cultural contexts. Each essay provides insights into the history of interpretation from a different racial/ethnic community in the United States.

Vincent L. Wimbush, ed. Misreading America: Scriptures and Difference (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

A collection of collaborative ethnographic essays focused on how communities of color have engaged the Bible and other scriptures to assert themselves in the American context. While we won’t read this volume in class, it’s a helpful resource for thinking through our course’s theme.

______, ed. Theorizing Scriptures: Introduction to a Critical Orientation (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008). 

An international and interdisciplinary focused on the phenomenon referred to as scriptures. The volume contains some wonderful essays that broaden and deepen our understanding of scriptures.

Theoretical Framework

Case Studies

Settler-Colonialism in North America

Drawing the Colorline and Inventing Whiteness

The Quest for Black Messiahs

Anti-Semitism and The Merchant of Venice

Mapping Borders: The Formation of Hispanic/Latin@ Identities

Murals, Mangers, and The Virgin of Guadalupe

The Problem of w/ the Model Minority Myth

Christianity and Race on TV: The Case of Gilmore Girls

Being an Arab-American Christian after 9/11

Seminar Highlights

Fall 2015

This was a harrowing time to teach this course. The semester began just days after the killing of college-bound Michael Brown. As mainstream media coverage of the #BlackLivesMatter movement increased, the seminar took a reflective turn.


As professor, I discussed how the color line–running evenly between my black and white students–impacted my pedagogical approach. These musings were published as part of the Race Matters in the Classroom blog series hosted by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.


Students penned a corporate blog post that chronicled the lessons learned in the seminar. Their thoughts were posted at Seminarium: The Elements of Great Teaching.

The issues at stake deserve more than a semester-long class, but the Fall 2015 iteration of the Bible and Race in the USA challenged us all to rethink what we are doing to create a society where black lives indeed matter.

Fall 2016

Because of the successes of the first seminar, students published their thoughts on the Bible and Race in the USA here at Sowing the Seed. They were each responsible for researching, writing, formatting, tweaking-code, and publishing their respective posts.   Thanks to grant funding from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, I was able to have graduate students and professional scholars publish responses throughout the semester. The posts were well received and used in a number of classes. You can read them here.

In our unit on scriptures and “whiteness,” we took a historical look. We took advantage of Elizabethtown College’s display of the Folger Library’s First Folio of William Shakespeare and filmed a mini-documentary on The Merchant of Venice. Students spoke to our resident archivist, exhibit liaison, theater director, and Shakespeare scholar to get a sense of how the anti-semitism, racism, biblicism, and cultural imagination of the English Renaissance. We then traced each of those how this is imbricated in contemporary constructions of whiteness. The film can be seen below.

A behind-the-scenes image from our documentary shoot.

Join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s