What is race and how is it theological?: An introduction to the Constructive Theologies Project

by Andrew Packman

Talk about race is ubiquitous. It’s front-page news.  Whether the topic is police brutality, the distribution of wealth, U.S. history curriculum, identity formation, or or religious practice, race is a central factor. If we didn’t acknowledge that race and the disparities associated with race are crucially at work, we simply would not understand what’s going on in any of the major political, social, and moral challenges we face. That much is clear.

What’s less clear is the reality behind all our talk about race. How should we think about this reality, as confusing and complex as it is ever-present?

Race theorists, historians, and social scientists of various stripes have provided remarkable insights into race as a sociological reality – the colonialist impulse that initiated it, the power relations and systems that constitute it, and the institutions that continue to perpetuate it. These have been invaluable and must be considered.

But race is not simply a sociological reality. The purportedly objective perspective of a social scientific observer has no language adequate to the intricacies of our guilt, pain, redemption, and liberation. If we bracket our ancient religious traditions from the conversation, we lose the eschatological imagery that might fund our hope for a world where peace and justice kiss. And if our thinking does not include a theological dimension, our quest for the ultimate significance of racial justice, the common good, and our own moral identities will come up short.

A central conviction of the Constructive Theologies Project is that the social realities of race and racism are crucially theological issues, too. This project was born of a belief that our talk of race must include creative, thoughtful, and explicitly theological elements if it is to be at all adequate to the racial realities in which we live and the racial disparities that distort our society. These realities demand a response that draws on the wisest spiritual insights, the most potent symbols, and the boldest hopes of our theological tradition.

The blog is meant as a space to incite and sharpen just such a response. By engaging with the best available thinking about race and by reflecting theologically on our own encounters with racism, we hope to enrich our church and our world’s collective understanding of these realities and project a moral and theological vision for transforming them.

Andrew Packman is a PhD student in Theology at the University of Chicago where he also earned an M.Div. Andrew is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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