Today's post interviews Rusty Hawkins and Phillip Luke Sinitiere, the editors of a new book Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith, which is rumored to be coming out with Oxford on November 6. Check the end of the post for a table of contents.
Karen Johnson (KJ): In
a nutshell, what is Christians and the Color Line about?
Sinitiere (PLS) and Rusty Hawkins (RH): Christians and the Color Line is about the changing, but still fractured state of race
relations within American Christian communities. The book’s first section offers
an accounting of important moments in the history of racialized Christianity in
the United States. The second section provides social scientific assessment of
what brings faith communities together across racial and ethnic lines, while
also examining how communities who claim fidelity to a purported Christian message
of unity and reconciliation continue to be wedged apart. We should be clear
that this book is in no way a “how-to” volume for religious leaders, but at the
same time we think it offers vital perspectives for anyone interested in racial
justice within religious organizations.
The book also
offers a strong challenge to those who believe American Christianity has
entered some “post-racial” era. This simply isn’t true. All of the chapters take
as their starting point the important claims Michael Emerson and Christian
Smith made in their book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Taken as a whole, Christians and the Color Line updates, challenges, and in some
cases revises Emerson and Smith’s findings.
KJ: What do you think is most exciting about the
PLS & RH: What is most exciting for both of us is
that hopefully this book can contribute something constructive to current
discussions and debates about religion, racialization, and racial justice. As
editors on this project we are riding just the coattails of the talented cast
of contributors. But we hope the book can demonstrate that both scholars and
interested religious folk have yet to fully come to grips with Christianity’s
(both Protestant and Catholic) complicity in the perpetuation of racialization and the role Christianity has played
(and can play) in both individual and institutional initiatives towards racial
justice. These matters are complex and nuanced, and fundamentally tied to
power; we hope Christians and the Color
Line offers a realist assessment of the historical situation and robust look
at some contemporary situations.
KJ: Tell me about the book's origins and putting it together.
RH: Divided by Faith was an incredibly important
book in shaping my understanding of evangelical religion and race, which is
what I study as a historian. As a
graduate student at Rice University, I had the opportunity walk across campus
and dabble in sociology with Michael Emerson, which only deepened my respect
for his work. In late 2009 I was talking
to fellow Rice alum (and RiAH contributor), Luke Harlow, who
casually mentioned that the following year would be the ten year anniversary of
Divided by Faith. Luke suggested I
should organize an anniversary conference like the one Randall Stephens had pulled together for Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I thought it was a great idea and so did my
institution. In October 2010, the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana
Wesleyan University hosted a decade retrospective for Divided by Faith and brought in sociologists, historians, and
theologians to engage with the claims of Emerson and Smith’s book and present
research on race and evangelical religion. The essays in Christians and the Color Line come primarily from papers presented
at the Indiana Wesleyan conference along with some additional essays
contributed by scholars whose work fit precisely with the aims of the volume.
When it came
time to edit the book, Phil was the obvious choice for co-editor. His own research and interdisciplinary
interests were perfectly suited for a project like this. Plus, he had experience collaborating long
distance on other book projects and was able to walk a neophyte like myself through the
PLS: While I
think Rusty overstates any qualifications I might have for collaborating on an
edited volume, another genesis of the essay volume (as Rusty alluded to) is a
shared appreciation for Emerson and Smith’s work in Divided by Faith along with a sincere respect for Emerson as a
person. (I don’t know Christian Smith, but I have long found his work
insightful and very helpful in my own scholarship.) I got to know Michael (and
Rusty, along with several of the contributors) personally through a Calvin College seminar
a few years ago, and as his Foreword to Christians
and the Color Line indicates, there is a certain moral and ethical
fortitude that grounds his sociological work. Not only does Michael write and
research about race and religion, his own personal commitments attempt to
embody a constructive solution to persistent racial divisions within religious
communities. (His book People of the Dream discusses part of this story as does my
article “Will the Evangelical Church Remove the Color Line?: Historical
Reflections on Divided by Faith.”)
Some academics liken their scholarship is their activism; there’s an additional
layer of “activism” in Emerson’s life that bolsters his scholarship, and as
I’ve become more familiar with Michael’s life story this is something I have
come to respect a great deal.
With respect to
collaborating with Rusty, I have to say it was an altogether enjoyable
experience. Early on in the project we spent a weekend in Houston editing the
manuscript; that face-to-face time was crucial in outlining the overall shape
of the volume and really getting the Introduction off the ground. After that we
exchanged countless emails and spent hours on the phone hashing out issues and
questions. We also spent a good deal of time corresponding with the
contributors—clarifying interpretive points, encouraging clearer prose, and
otherwise praising some really fine work. While Rusty and I differed on some
interpretive matters—as historians and friends always do—I found that we often
anticipated each other’s questions and quickly became of one mind in wishing to
present a readable volume of essays as well as a constructive intervention about
questions surrounding religion and racial justice.
why should we read the book?
PLS: You should
read the book because race and religion still matter greatly in the United
States. This book offers ways to understand the deep entanglements between race
and religion. The chapters will disturb you and perplex you; they will intrigue
you, and challenge you.
RH: You should also read it because it is an
eminently readable book that would work wonderfully in seminary classrooms
and/or even undergraduate courses. And,
frankly, with the way it’s priced,
you really can’t afford NOT to read it!
Table of Contents
Michael O. Emerson
J. Russell Hawkins & Phillip Luke Sinitiere
"Neoevangelicalism and the Problem of Race in Postwar America"
Miles S. Mullin, II
"Healing the Mystical Body: Catholic Attempts to Overcome the Racial Divide in Chicago, 1930-1948"
Karen Joy Johnson
"'Glimmers of Hope': Progressive Evangelicals and Racism, 1965-2000"
Brantley W. Gasaway
"'Buttcheek to Buttcheek in the Pew': Interracial Relationalism in a Mennonite Congregation, 1957-2010"
Tobin Miller Shearer
"Still Divided by Faith? Evangelical Religion and the
Problem of Race in America, 1977-2010"
Ryon J. Cobb
"Worshipping to Stay the Same: Avoiding the Local to Maintain Solidarity"
Mark T. Mulder
"Beyond Body Counts: Sex, Individualism, and the Segregated Shape of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism"
Edward J. Blum
"Color-Conscious Structure-Blind Assimilation: How Asian American Christians Can Unintentionally Maintain the Racial Divide"
Jerry Z. Park
"Knotted Together: Identity and Community in a Multiracial Church"
Erica Ryu Wong
"Much Ado About Nothing? Rethinking the Efficacy of Multiracial Churches for Racial Reconciliation"
Korie L. Edwards
"The Call to
Blackness in American Christianity"