Course Highlights: Spring 2019

Christina Davidson

THE CREOLE SPIRITS
AAAS 187X

Christina Davidson
Tu 3:00 - 5:45 PM
Sever 111

What excites you about this course? What were you thinking about when you designed the syllabus?

What excites me most about this course is that it asks big questions about the role of religion in racial formation. How did Western Christianity enable the Atlantic slave trade? How did ideologies of Christian supremacy transform into white supremacy? What did Africans and their descendants believe, and how did they use religion to fight white supremacy? These were the big questions that I was thinking about when I designed the syllabus. I am eager to explore these questions with students who recognize the fundamental significance that religion has played in shaping our modern world. Too often religion gets written out of the narrative of racial formation, but this class places it at the center!

For students concerned with issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration, what do you hope they will come away from the course understanding in a new way?

I hope that students will walk away with a renewed appreciation for the role that religious ideology plays in shaping world views. It is clear that religion still matters in modern society; the majority of white evangelicals voted for Trump. The political marriage between white evangelicals and the conservative right is part of a long genealogy that begins with European colonialism in the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade. At the same time, minorities in the United States--including (but not limited to) recent immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color--also pray and devoutly follow their religious convictions, be they Christians or not. Religion from below has been critical to key moments of history, for example: the Haitian Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, de-colonialism, etc. I hope students will walk away with understanding of how religion works to produce structural inequality as well as inspire change. I also hope that they'll walk away with a better sense of the range of religious beliefs that exist in the Caribbean world; the relationship between religion, race, and power; and the transformation of this relationship over time.

Can you give an example of one reading that you're especially excited to teach and discuss?

I am excited about all of it! The course features recent work on religion and race in the Caribbean. For example, one of the books, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by Katherine Gerbner documents the rise of white supremacy in the late 17th century. Another book, Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization, by Monique Bedasse explores the Caribbean roots of Rastafarianism, black internationalism, and repatriation to Africa. This gives a sense of the range of readings that will help answer the big questions of the course. I'm really looking forward to the discussions!

 

Eleanor Craig

POWER, IDENTITY, KNOWLEDGE: CRITICAL APPROACHES TO RACE AND ETHNICITY
EMR 133/WGS 1204
Eleanor Craig
Tu Th 1:30 - 2:45 PM
Sever 109

What excites you about this course? What were you thinking about when you designed the syllabus?

This course takes on what I think of as deep, even existential, questions of scholarship: Who is thought to possess and create knowledge-- who gets to be a subject, and who is considered an object? How did myths of academic neutrality emerge, and what biases have they created along the way? What does scholarship on race and ethnicity have to do with social movements and social struggles?

We've had many conversations in EMR about what makes for a robust program in Ethnic and Indigenous Studies, and one thing that has consistently been missing is a "Theories and Methods" course. I've been asking myself how "Power, Knowledge, Identity" can fill needs that exist at multiple levels, how it can provide an accessible introduction that engages fully with the difficulty of this work. I am also thinking about what analytical tools an EMR student writing a thesis should have at their disposal.

I designed this class in conversation with Caroline Light in WGS, while she was working on her Fall 2018 course "Love's Labors Found." We both wanted to show, from our respective starting points, that it is necessary to work in an intersectional mode from the start. Race and ethnicity cannot be studied without critical attention to gender and sexuality, and vice versa.

For students concerned with issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration, what do you hope they will come away from the course understanding in a new way?

I have been reflecting a lot on my own experiences in Asian American Studies and Asian American community work. In preparing for this course, I've been struck by how deeply my perspective on both shifted when I broadened my education to Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Studies. Whole new areas of questioning emerged: What roles do Asian Americans play in settler colonialism? What are the extended effects of the ways that Asian American and Latinx communities are triangulated against Black and Indigenous communities? How can we write and talk in ways that recognize that these are often not separate communities, but overlapping and intertwined?

More than anything, I hope that this course will demonstrate how connected these histories and theories actually are. The point is not to arrive at one grand, final narrative, but to refine our ways of asking questions and seeking answers.

Can you give an example of one reading that you're especially excited to teach and discuss?

Eve Tuck's "Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities," written in 2009, asks its audience to confront the ways that academic research has exploited and harmed Native and 'urban' communities. The letter is not targeting bigots or those who would intentionally twist facts for political gain, but those with good intentions. It points to the lack of alignment between academics' categories for social realities and the lives they describe. It asks what happens when people and communities are only portrayed for their experiences of oppression, loss, and harm. 

One implicit thesis of this course is that understanding harm and oppression, while important, is only one layer of our studies. We are after ways of thinking and knowing that are deeply contextualized and multi-dimensional, that appreciate the ongoing ways in which people and communities are always in processes of becoming. Tuck's is one of several open letters we will read along the way, and that to me says something about this field, and the ways that scholars of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity are constantly pressing one another to do better-- as academics, and as human beings.