The Religious Pursuit of Race: Christianity, Modern Science, and the Perception of Human Difference

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The Religious Pursuit of Race: Christianity, Modern Science, and the Perception of Human Difference

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Title: The Religious Pursuit of Race: Christianity, Modern Science, and the Perception of Human Difference
Author: Keel, Terence
Citation: Keel, Terence. 2012. The Religious Pursuit of Race: Christianity, Modern Science, and the Perception of Human Difference. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation is a work in intellectual history that chronicles racial theories within Western science and medicine. Therein, I address two interrelated questions. Firstly, has Christianity shaped modern scientific perceptions of race? Secondly, is the search for the origin of human life, vis-à-vis theories of race, a purely scientific matter or, a more basic human existential concern? To answer these questions I undertook archival research within the history of European and American racial science, analyzing contemporary scientific work, archival data of primary scientific material, biblical commentaries, literary monthlies, and early maps of the major continents. I argue that Christian ideas about nature, humanity, and history have facilitated modern scientific perceptions of race since the time of the Enlightenment. This is true despite what is believed to be the “Death of Adam” within Western science following the emergence of Darwinian evolution. In defense of my thesis I trace the currency of three ideas derived from Christianity that have shaped the assumptions and reasoning styles of early modern and contemporary scientific theorists of race. These ideas are: common human descent (derived from the Biblical creation narrative), the ontological uniqueness of human life (drawn from Biblical claims about the “image of God” mirrored in “mankind”), and the longevity of racial traits (an idea that has its roots in theological claims about the stability and inherent order of nature). I chart the development of these three Christian concepts across four different historical moments that reveal how religious and scientific perceptions of race share a common foundation in the West. These moment are: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s attempt to develop anthropology as a secular science during the end of the eighteenth-century; mid-nineteenth-century debates in the U.S. over common human descent; early twentieth-century theories of race and disease that relied on polygenist assumptions about distinct human ancestry; and finally the recent discovery of
Neanderthal DNA exclusively in the descendents of Eurasia. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that religious and scientific ways of viewing race have been interconnected and are animated by irresolvable questions about what it means to be human.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9572089
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