J. Kameron Carter is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he also is co-director of IU’s Center for Religion and the Human. Professor Carter engages questions of Blackness, race, colonialism, political theology, and ecology through what he calls “the black study of religion.” He is the author of Race: A Theological Account(Oxford University Press, 2008), editor of Religion and the Futures of Blackness(South Atlantic Quarterly, 2013), and editor of The Matter of Black Religion (American Religion, 2021). Most recently, Professor Carter is the author of the much-anticipated book, The Anarchy of Black Religion: A Mystic Song (Duke University Press, forthcoming, August 2023). His next book, The Religion of Whiteness: An Apocalyptic Lyric (with Yale University Press), from which this talk is drawn, is in final preparation.
“The Religion of Whiteness: An Apocalyptic Lyric”
This talk approaches whiteness through the lens of the black study of religion. More specifically, it engages cultural theorist W. E. B. Du Bois’s idea that whiteness is a religion wherein the death-drive and the property-drive converge as colonial racial capitalism. This is but another way of saying that for Du Bois — particularly the undergraduate Du Bois in William James’s Philosophy IV Seminar at Harvard University (1888–89) through to the more advanced Du Bois of Darkwater (1920) — whiteness is earth-extracting, earth-destroying political theology. As catastrophic political theology, whiteness animates what Denise Ferreira da Silva has called “the global idea of race.” This talk’s principal task is to unpack the main contours of this claim, while, by the end, gesturing toward an account of the stakes of Du Bois’s practice as a poet and fiction writer. As an artist (and not just a social scientist), Du Bois critiques what he called “the religion of whiteness” as part of a larger project of opening an understanding of blackness as socio-ecological endurance, indeed, as practices of socio-artistic living in and through apocalypse or ge(n)ocidal catastrophe. This is akin to what Zora Neale Hurston called “making a way out of no way,” to what dancer and philosopher Sylvia Wynter called “finding another ceremony,” to what visual artist Wangechi Mutu might call an otherwise mythmaking that disintegrates the distinction between human, animal, plant, and machine, and to what, increasingly, I call the arts of black faith.