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April 30, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
“Christianity, Race, and the Haunting of Life Science”
with Terence Keel
The idea that so-called races reflect inherent biological differences between social groups has been a prominent aspect of Western thought since at least the Enlightenment. While there have been moments of refuting this way of thinking—most notably, the social constructionist thesis emerging as a dominant framework in the aftermath of WWII—fixed biological conceptions of race haunt new genetic technologies, where race is thought to be measurable at the molecular level. Keel argues that the resilience of this naturalized understanding of race may stem less from overtly political motives on the part of scientists and more from our inherited theological traditions that predate the Enlightenment and continue to shape and limit the intellectual horizon of scientific reasoning.
Bio:Terence Keel is an Associate Professor with a split appointment in the Department of African American Studies, and the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. He is also the Founding Director of the Lab for Biocritical Studies and currently serves as Associate Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Keel has written extensively about race, religion, law, and modern science. His widely acclaimed first book, Divine Variations explains how religion helped produce scientific racism. Keel argues that modern biology has undergone an uneven process of secularization, leaving contemporary scientific theories of race haunted by a religious past that cannot be fully transcended.
Keel is currently writing a second book on the American medical examiner system that details how forensic pathology, law enforcement, and autopsy science suffer from a climate of social and ethical nihilism that produce practices of state violence and biomedical racism that target communities of color and erase police accountability for death while under custody. Keel is also currently a co-editor of the forthcoming book Critical Approaches to Science and Religion, with Myrna Perez-Sheldon and Ahmed Ragab. Bringing together scholars from the humanities, law, biology, and the social sciences, this book features a new generation of scholars offering insights into the changing relations between science, religion, critical race theory and social justice. Keel has a B.A. in Theology from Xavier University of Louisiana, a M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy for his collaborative work on the American medical examiner system.
“Christianity as a Source of Racism: Some Implications and Challenges”
with Denise Kimber Buell
Claiming that Christianity is the sole source of racism obscures how humans have enacted and may enact racism without indebtedness to Christianity. Nonetheless, the pluriform and dynamic sets of communities, traditions, and practices that collectively constitute Christianity need to be held accountable for their contributions to ways of knowing and being that have served to produce, justify, and maintain racist structures, practices, and ideologies—with certain forms of Christianity bearing more responsibility than others in fostering and sustain racism, including in secularized guises. Early Christian sources contain building blocks of racist ways of knowing and being, even as many Christians cite Christian resources to combat racism. Reflecting on these points, I ask what considering Christianity’s historical and present complicity in racism means for the future. Specifically, I ask about the role and place of origins and sources in our struggles to understand and combat racism in the present.
Bio: Denise K. Buell has taught at Williams College since 1997. Her area of specialty is early Christian history and its interpretation. Her research asks how contemporary and ancient concerns affect the interpretation and reconstruction of early Christian history and texts, with particular attention to race, ethnicity, gender, and the relations between humans and non-humans. Her work has appeared in multiple articles as well in Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy (Princeton, 1999) and Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (Columbia, 2005). Buell received her A.B. from Princeton University, her M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and her Ph.D. from Harvard University. She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Centre for Advanced Study (Oslo,