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Is Religious Intolerance Racist? The “Heathen” and the White Savior in American History
Kathryn Lum, Associate Professor of Religious Studies in collaboration with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and History, Stanford University
What is the relationship between religious intolerance and racism? This talk focuses on the American history of attitudes toward the “heathen” and asks whether we might consider religious intolerance to be racist and the “heathen” to be a racial figure. Some scholars have maintained that race requires a perception that the Other is innately different and cannot be changed. This talk will instead suggest that it is the very changeability of the “heathen”—the idea that heathenness cannot be tolerated and necessitates conversion—that underlies American racial governance and a white savior complex.
Kathryn Gin Lum is Associate Professor of Religious Studies in collaboration with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and History (by courtesy) at Stanford University. She is the author of Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction (Oxford 2014) and Heathen: Religion and Race in American History (Harvard 2022). She is also the co-editor, with Paul Harvey, of The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Race in American History (Oxford 2018). Gin Lum is the founder and director of the American Religions in a Global Context Initiative at Stanford.