This talk interrogates whiteness through the lens of the black study of religion. More specifically, it engages cultural theorist W. E. B. Du Bois’s idea that whiteness is a religion wherein the death drive and the drive for property converge as racial capitalism. This is another way of saying that for Du Bois, whiteness is earth-extracting, earth-destroying political theology. This talk’s principal task is to unpack the main contours of this claim, while, by the end, gesturing toward an account of the stakes of Du Bois’s artistic practice as a post-apocalyptic poet and fiction writer. As an artist, Du Bois critiques what he called “the religion of whiteness” as part of a larger project of opening an understanding of blackness as practices of creative, artistic living in and through the devastation of the earth or the settler-colonial stealing of land and life. Such creative living is akin to what Zora Neale Hurston called “making a way out of no way” and to what, increasingly, I call the arts of black faith. Black faith conjures post-apocalyptic forms of life and belonging. It’s call to action is to live life poetically and poethically, and thus imagine alternatives to this “narrow now.”
J. Kameron Carter works at the intersection of questions of race and the current ecological ravaging of the earth. He is interested in what these intertwined issues have to do with the modern world, generally, and with America (or rather the Americas), more specifically, as a unique religious situation or phenomenon. He explores these matters with the resources of black critical theory, which is simply to say critical theory, combined with theories of the sacred and languages drawn from the domains of religion, theology, and philosophy. He also draws on feminist, gender, and queer theory, philosophy and aesthetics, and literatures and poetries of the African diaspora as a further repertoire of resources with which to reimagine matter itself, all with a view to imagining alternative worlds, other ways of being with the earth and thus with each other.
He teaches courses at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels in black studies and/as critical theory; continental philosophy and aesthetics; religion, modernity, and the secular; political theology; hip hop and religion; black feminism and religion; theories of religion; theory of the sacred; modern theology; race and mysticism; Afro-futurism and religion; black experimental writing and poetics; black nature or eco-poetry; African American literature and religion.
Carter’s writings reflect the above-mentioned intellectual concerns and subject matters. For example, in 2008 he published a book titled Race: A Theological Account in which he examined how discourses of Christian theology worked with Enlightenment philosophical discourses of “reason” to shape our current “racial common sense” or how we have come to understand ourselves as “raced” beings. He explores how this was a profound wrong-turn whose consequences are baked into the very fabric of what we call the modern world and Western democratic societies. Additionally, in 2013 he edited a special issue of the journal South Atlantic Quarterly called Religion and the Future of Blackness. Profiling a range of established and emerging scholars and thinkers in black (religious) studies, Religion and the Futures of Blackness offers essays that reimagine religion and the political beyond the dominant racialized conceptions of these terms and towards alternative worlds.
Professor Carter has just completed The Anarchy of Black Religion: A Mystic Song (forthcoming, Duke University Press, August 2023). Anarchy is the first volume in Carter’s “The Black Study of Religion” trilogy. Carter is completing the trilogy’s second volume, which is titled The Religion of Whiteness: An Apocalyptic Lyric. Carter’s Payne Lecture draws from The Religion of Whiteness project.