[W14] Blackness and (Dis)belief (W2014)

Blackness and (Dis)Belief
Thursdays, 10:10am-1:00pm


Professor Ashon Crawley

What is the thing we call “religious,” what is its object? What does this word, and this concept, index about relationality, about being in the world, about blackness? In this course, we will consider categories typically associated with a particular mode of thought and social reflection: mysticism, theism, theology, religion.

This course is about “Black Study,” the force of (dis)belief set loose in the world, disrupting institutionalization and abstraction of thought that produces the categorical distinctions of disciplinary knowledges. Black Study is an unbounded, holy, collective intellectual project that is fundamentally otherwise than an (inter)discipline. This course is about the relation of race, gender, sexuality and performance to concepts found within the domain and delimitation of religion. And performance can illustrate the conditions of emergence for antiphonal criticisms of normative theology and philosophy Throughout the course, we will be attentive to the historicity of performances as constituting an atheological-aphilosophical project, produced against the grain of liberal logics of subjectivity. By showing that theology and philosophy are abstractions of thought that produce the conceptual body as the target of racialization, the atheological-aphilosophical couplet indexes modes of intellectual practice that engulf and exceed such reductivism.

During the antebellum era, both clergy and scholars alike levied incessant injunctions against enthusiastic, bodily displays of piety, injunctions against loud singing and frenzied dancing in religion and popular culture. Calling for the relinquishment of these sensual spiritual experiences, I argue that these framing injunctions led to a condition where disbelief became a zone of inhabitation for otherwise than confessional sociality, disbelief in the conditions in which one exists while also utilizing the force of such disbelief to creatively practice living in an otherwise.

How is theology, as a branch of thought within the realm of the religious, grounded in the desire to produce modes of thought as categorical, and categorically different, from other modes of thought, and is how thought from within this zones is understood to operate as if this category and categorical difference is pure and purely cohesive? Our task is to investigate the delimitation of thought by considering performance; and our task is to ask what is the relation of performance to belief and disbelief?


January 9: Course Introduction

January 16:

  • “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument” (Sylvia Wynter)
  • “The Traditions of Race Men” (Jennings)
  • “Paratheological Blackness” (Carter)
  • “Blackness Past, Blackness Future – and Theology” (Copeland)
  • “‘One Percenters’: Black Atheists, Secular Humanists, and Naturalists” (Hart)

January 23:

  • “Black Feminist Futures: Reading Beauvoir in Black Skin, White Masks” (Adkins)
  • “‘Mysticism is tempting’: Simone de Beauvoir on Mysticism, Metaphysics, and Sexual Difference”; “Sexual Difference and the Problem of Belief” (Hollywood)
  • “Introduction: The fragrance of Women’s Liberation Theology: odours of sex and lemons on the streets of Buenos Aires”; “Indecent proposals for women who would like to do theology without using underwear” (Althaus-Reid)

January 30:

  • African Religions and Philosophy (Mbiti)
  • “Incantation: European Attitudes toward Africanness in Jamaica”; “Visitation: The Legacy of African-Derived Religions in Jamaica” (Stewart)
  • “The African Diaspora”; “Death of the Gods” (Raboteau)

February 6:

  • Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Asad)
  • “Race, Theodicy, and the Normative Emancipatory Challenges of Blackness” (Gordon)
  • “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh)” (Moten)

February 13:

  • Marx on Religion (Marx)
  • “Catechesis and Conversion”; “The Rule of Gospel Order” (Raboteau)

February 20: Where are we?

  • “Religion within the boundaries of mere reason” (Kant)

February 27:

  • The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Jennings)
  • “Introduction”; “Part 1: Queering Theology” (Althaus-Reid)

March 4:

  • Beyond Ontological Blackness (Anderson)
  • “Religious Life in the Slave Community”; “Religion, Rebellion, and Docility”; Conclusion” (Raboteau)

March 6:

  • Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology (Jones)
  • “William R. Jones and the Challenge of Black Theodicy” (Jackson)

March 13: Final Reflections Due, 5:00pm

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