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Study of Religion as an Analytical Discipline Workshop (Denver)

Workshop Premise:

2018 Race and the Analytical Study of Religion

Friday, November 16, 2018, University of Denver, Denver, CO

“(The ideas) of Racecraft govern what goes with what and whom (sumptuarycodes), how different people must deal with each other (rituals of deference anddominance), where human kinship begins and ends (blood), and how Americanslook at themselves and each other (the gaze). These ideas do not exist purely inthe mind, or only in the mind. They are social facts - like six o’clock, both anidea and a reality. Because Racecraft exists this way, its constant remakingconstantly retreats from view. This, “now you see it, now you don’t” quality iswhat makes racism - the practice of a double standard based on ancestry -possible.”

Karen E. Fields and Barbara J Fields, “A Tour of Racecraft,” in Racecraft

“Evidence of the changing and inconsistent composition of racialized groups,and definitions of racial difference in the course of modern history, suggeststhat "race" must be recognized as at least as unstable, at least as contingent, assubject to the same historical contexts that have continually reproduced andreconstituted class, gender, and other social formations. Evidence for theinextricability of racial formation from other historical processes emerges in thefrequent observation that the "new racism" of the late nineteenth centuryaccompanied rising antisemitism, including pogroms, and the Dreyfus Affair,and enhanced class stratification in Europe. Yet how do we comprehend therelationship between race and other historical processes?”

Laura Tabili, “Race is a Relationship and Not a Thing.”

In its 8th annual workshop, SORAAAD asks, How do we design research and collectdata on race, the processes of racialization, and religion? How do we trace theirintersections with disability, gender, orientation, and class while also challenging theidea that race or phenotypic preoccupation is a universal mode of human aggregation?How do we rejoin attention to these issues along with different scales of social andpolitical aggregation and power? To address these issues and more, we are pleased toannounce that Rudy Busto, Kelly J. Baker, Karen E. Fields, Chloe Martinez, Jolyon B. Thomas, Jens Kreinath, Angela C. Sutton, Monique Moultrie, and Sarah Dees will sharetheir work and insights with regard to Race and: history, white supremacy, legalclassifications, Racecraft, Japanese culture, visual culture, the Slave Societies Database, womanist ethnography, and Indigenous religion.

SORAAAD asserts that all discussions of race, racialization, and religion necessarilyfactor into larger social scientific discussions regarding principles of representation andresponsible uses of evidence. At the same time we recognize that research on race andreligion needs to integrate other facets of human existence and modes of aggregation,such as politics, economics, culture, and organizations, and these at varied scales. Multiple disciplines are working now to decolonize themselves, and yet such effortsexist often alongside—and sometimes overlap with—others to defend empire. How dowe construct studies of race that are not trapped in narratives of white supremacy or the impacts of colonialism retrojected over time? And how do we construct studies of race and religion that capture these categories as discursive sites and constructiveprocesses?

SORAAAD is happy to host an alliance of scholars to discuss the state of differentinitiatives to correct public and scholarly understandings of race. Drawing on researchfrom across the humanities and social sciences, and noting also new advances in thedigital humanities that provide unprecedented access to primary sources, we asktogether: How do we revisit the data of human history?

- Ipsita Chatterjea, David Walker, and Jamel Velji for the SORAAAD workshopcommittee.

Sponsored by:
SORAAAD at the University of Regina
Religious Studies Department, University of Regina
Film, Media & Journalism Studies Department, University of DenverReligious Studies Department, University of Denver

Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania (1:30 p.m.)

“Japanese People Don’t See Race”: Linguistic Tics, Ambient Norms, and the Constructed Qualities of Race and Religion in Japan

While the concepts of “race” (jinshu) and “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu) exist in contemporary Japanese, these terms feature as loan words that fit imperfectly with the English terms that they translate. Japanese perceptions of race are no less real for that fact, but Japanese sensitivities about race manifest themselves somewhat differently than, say, American perceptions of the same. For example, references to Japaneseness pervade daily conversation, from overheard conversations in coffeeshops to nighttime news broadcasts. The idea of Japaneseness cloaks personal opinion with the mantle of common sense, renders specific dispositions aspects of a timeless culture, and censures undesirable behavior while establishing social norms. Little of this discussion is about race as such, but the language of Japaneseness creates a social center that tolerates, but does not fully include, marginal communities (Brown 2006). Insensitivity to racial discrimination appears in the continued Japanese use of blackface in comedic situations, the ubiquity of minstrel kitsch in Japanese bars and cafes, nostalgia for Nazi paraphernalia in Japanese sub-communities, and casual indifference to the continuing marginal status of Japanese-born Koreans (now fourth-generation, but technically not fully “Japanese,” immigrants; Chung 2010) and traditional outcaste communities (burakumin; see Bondy 2014).    

Building on the constructivist insight that both race and religion are invented categories that exist as socially dependent facts but not as ahistorical essences, in this presentation I look at some ways that religion and race intertwine in Japanese public life. Critically examining language that appears in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft constitution of 2012 and the revised Fundamental Law on Education (FLE) of 2006, I show that majoritarian approaches to constitutional revision and national legislation would render some aspects of religion as facets of a timeless Japanese culture. Specifically, by making Shinto essentially Japanese (it is not), conservative lawmakers can make public sponsorship of shrine rites immune from allegations of violating the constitutional principle of religion-state separation. Furthermore, by defining Japaneseness quite narrowly, lawmakers can restrict political participation to people bearing linguistic fluency (a high exclusionary hurdle given that Japanese is among the most difficult foreign languages to master), a narrow phenotype (e.g., black hair), and set of fetishized cultural dispositions (e.g., “harmony,” wa) that may include ritual practices. Not all of these ideals appear explicitly in the draft charter or the FLE, but by tying these legal issues to recent debates over the role of morality and patriotism in public schools, I show that children learn a type of racist thinking that refuses the language of race and a type of religious thinking that eschews explicit mention of religion.

Race and the Analytical Study of Religion


8:45-9:15 Workshop Check-in; Refreshments and Informal Introductions.
9:15 Introduction and Opening Statement
9:25 Introductions across the room - Ipsita Chatterjea & David Walker, Moderators.

Race and the Analytical Study of Religion - Sean McCloud, Session Chair

9:45 Rudy Busto “Race, Religion and the Chains of Human History”
10:25 Kelly Baker “Foregrounding White Supremacists in Religious Studies”

11:00 -11:15 Break

Race, Religion, Categories, and Classification - David Walker, Session Chair
11:15 Karen Fields “Race as America’s Totemic Constructs”
11:50 Chloe Martinez “Making Race, Making Space: Bhagat Singh Thind Beyond the

Supreme Court Case”

12:25- 1:30 Lunch

Race, Religion, Reframing the Data of Racialization - Tim Jensen, Session Chair.

1:30 Jolyon Thomas “’Japanese People Don’t See Race’: Linguistic Tics, Ambient

Norms, and the Constructed Qualities of Race and Religion in Japan”

2:10 Jens Kreinath “Visual Culture and the Formation of the Anthropological

Category of Race: Implications and Consequences for the Study of Religion and

Culture, with a Particular Focus on Islam and the Middle East”
2:50 Angela Sutton (via Skype) “Religious Documents in the Slave Societies Digital

Archive (SSDA)”
Race and Methodology - Ipsita Chatterjea, Session Chair

3:40 Sarah Dees “Presence, Absence, Refusal: Race and Indigenous Religions in the Academy “
4:20 Monique Moultrie “Womanist Ethnography: Race, Sexuality and Media”

4:55 Conversation across sessions

5:20 Announcements and clean up.

SORAAAD reception - 5:40- 7:00, Location TBD

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