Religion is a racialized category, even when race is not explicitly mentioned. Modern Religion, Modern Race argues that because the concepts of religion and race are rooted in the post-Enlightenment project of rethinking what it means to be human, we cannot simply will ourselves to stop using these categories. Only by acknowledging that religion is already racialized can we begin to understand how the two concepts are intertwined and how they operate in our modern world. It has become commonplace to argue that the category religion is not universal, or even very old, but is a product of Europe's Enlightenment modernization. Equally commonplace is the argument that religion is not an innocent category of analysis, but is implicated in colonial regimes of control and as such plays a role in Europe's process of identity construction of non-European "others." Current debates about race follow an eerily similar trajectory: race is not an ancient but a modern construction. It is part of the project of colonialism, and race discourse forms one of the cornerstones of modern European identity-making.
Vial focuses on the development of these ideas in the late-18th and early-19th centuries in Germany. By examining the theories of Kant, Herder, and Schleiermacher, among others, Vial uncovers co-constitutive nature of race and religion, and how the two concepts are used today to make sense of the world. He shows that while we disdain the racist language of some of the founders of the religious studies discipline, our continued use of their theories leads us, unwittingly, to reiterate many of the same distinctions and hierarchies. Although it may not be time to abandon the very category of religion, with all its attendant baggage, Modern Religion, Modern Race calls for us to critically examine that baggage, and the way in which religion has always carried within it race.
Modern Religion, Modern Race by Theodore M. Vial was published by Oxford University Press Inc in August 2016. The ISBN for Modern Religion, Modern Race is 9780190212551.