For a Human-Centered AI

Race and Theology

May 26, 2017

A VIDEO-message from prof. Leo D. Lefebure on "The Conflict of Social Innovations: Christian Theologies, Empires, and Modern Constructions of Race"

The tragic history of effects of Christian social innovations in empires and racial oppression poses a continuing challenge to Christian life and thought today.

While there were many forms of imperial domination in antiquity, the ancient world did not have a conception of race or a practice of racial discrimination in the modern sense of the word.

One of the most important social innovations of the modern world came when Christian European empires began to conquer the rest of the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and developed modern concepts of race, which divided the world into “whites,” “blacks,” and, in the United States, “red men” (indigenous Amerindians) and “yellow men” (from East Asia).

To support this innovation, racist readers of the Bible interpreted the so-called curse of Canaan/Ham in Genesis as authorizing the brutal enslavement of all Africans of every generation.  However, beginning in the early sixteenth century other Christians forcefully condemned the mistreatment and enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and from the middle of this century some Christians vigorously opposed the institution of slavery, launching one of the most important biblical debates in world history.

On Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, at the Centre for Religious Studies of Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Prof. Leo D. Lefebure has briefly reviewed this historical legacy and discussed some of the most important Christian social innovations of the present time regarding the struggle against racism and the legacy of colonialism.

In american history, religion has played different roles: sometimes promoting equality among races, and sometimes justifying inequality, disrespect and even exclusion of marginalized groups.

Overcoming the stereotype of America as the hope of freedom and democracy for the entire world presents a more complex and ambiguous picture of American life.


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