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