Race/War/Genocide, U.S and Germany: The Role of Religion?



5 comments

Paul Harvey

A mid-day "thinking out loud" post. I've just been talking with a colleague that I'll be team-teaching with next semester, an undergraduate course on Race, War, and Genocide in the U.S. South and Germany, 1865ish - 1965ish (dates are flexible on either end). This sort of started out as a "comparative genocide" kind of course (how's that for a cheerful semester for you), but we've narrowed it down somewhat, in part to our two specialties (the colleague is a German historian).

This is all exciting to think about, but now we're getting down to themes and readings for the course, which is always where a lot of good readings/ideas to pursue have to be jettisoned, given the constraints of the semester, how much one can ask students to read, etc.

We came at the course with a paradox and question. An observer looking at the U.S. South in the 1890s and Jews in Germany during this period might well have predicted that, if a genocide (I know the word would not have been invented yet -- just play with me here) were to come, it would surely be in the U.S. Lynching was a gruesome practice to a larger pogrom, of course, while in Germany laws liberalizing social strictures on Jews gave reasonable hope that German Jews would eventually be incorporated into German society in a way that must have appeared impossible for African Americans. In short, things were getting worse for blacks in the U.S. and better for Jews in Germany.

Fast forward 50 years -- what happened? That's a central question of the course.

One part of that question might involve religion -- obviously the case with German Jews, but clearly the case for black and whites in the U.S. as well. What might make a good reading exploring the influence of religion in the U.S. on the move from the proto-genocide of the lynching era (with all the religious imagery that went into lynching as a sacrificial act, as Donald Mathews has argued) to the stirrings of civil rights in the 1930s/1940s? Or what might be some good ways to frame the discussion for students? Just asking.

5 comments:

Phil at: October 22, 2009 at 3:21 PM said...

Sounds like a fascinating course.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind as a possibility--I know he spent some time in the U.S. in the 1930s (I think), and attended black churches in Harlem (Abyssinian Baptist Church I believe it was). I once heard or read somewhere that he sent recordings of black spirituals to his family in Germany. He wrote of being spiritually moved by them.

Also, if memory serves me correctly he wrote about black churches and segregation in a piece titled "Protestantism without Reformation."

Perhaps there are others who can add to the subject of Bonhoeffer here?

David at: October 22, 2009 at 10:12 PM said...

Definitely sounds interesting. It would be worth exploring that the Kulturkampf was taking place against the Catholics in Germany and that the decades before WWI had cyclically high anti-Catholicism in America. The hate level was high against Catholics in both countries but genocide never came about. I would argue that the anti-Catholicism has to be accounted for in any model of how race, religion, hate, and genocide come together.
Best of luck.

rjc at: October 22, 2009 at 10:50 PM said...

If you're thinking about genocide in the US in the 1890s, I'm curious about why you decided to make African Americans the subject but not Native Americans? Would that change anything in the analysis?

Paul Harvey at: October 23, 2009 at 8:28 AM said...

Chip: The subject is the U.S. South and Germany -- the title of the post didn't make that clear. That explains the subject. The Native American case obviously has a long history and doesn't fit within the specific question parameters of this course as well.

Rebecca at: October 26, 2009 at 5:49 PM said...

But maybe it does. Didn't the Lumbee of Robeson County, North Carolina, have trouble with the Klan between 1890-1920?

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