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Home » The Center for Jewish Ethics » Race, Religion, and American Judaism » Lecture 6: Limpieza de Sangre and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’; Or, What Hath the Soul to Do with Racialized Bodies?

Lecture 6: Limpieza de Sangre and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’; Or, What Hath the Soul to Do with Racialized Bodies?

In this presentation, Sylvester Johnson will explain the racialization of religion as a central and persisting phenomenon in the making of the West that has targeted Islam, Judaism, and so-called animism. 


Discussion questions

  1. Professor Johnson characterizes racism as a political system governing who gets to belong in a political community. He points to examples from centuries ago (during the Spanish Inquisition) and from our own time (the Muslim ban). How is this account of race and racism different than other definitions you have heard? What do you find helpful or challenging about it? 
  2. Professor Johnson explains that limpieza de sangre, “purity of blood,” was a doctrine that went far beyond biological notions of race in seeking to uncover the essential truth of a person’s moral and intellectual constitution. What are some other examples of such essentialized, racialized thinking about human groups? Can you think of examples beyond the ones he mentions?
  3. Professor Johnson describes antisemitism and Islamophobia as forms of racism. How does this talk help you understand the complicated interconnections between race and religion? 
  4. Professor Johnson argues that racism is not a modern phenomenon but an ancient one with a global reach. What does this long history of racial thinking mean for contemporary efforts to oppose racism? 

Sylvester Johnson

Sylvester Johnson

Sylvester A. Johnson is Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Executive Director of the “Tech for Humanity” initiative at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Humanities. Sylvester’s research has examined religion, race, and empire in the Atlantic world; religion and sexuality; national security practices; and the impact of intelligent machines and human enhancement on human identity and race governance. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and US empire, Johnson led an Artificial Intelligence project that developed a successful proof-of-concept machine learning application to ingest and analyze a humanities text. He is the author of The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity (Palgrave 2004), a study of race and religious hatred that won the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book award; and African American Religions, 1500-2000 (Cambridge 2015), an award-winning interpretation of five centuries of democracy, colonialism, and freedom in the Atlantic world. Johnson has also co-edited The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11 (University of California 2017). He is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions

More from the lecturer

  • Interview with Dr. Johnson, LA Review of Books/Conversations in Black, 2016.
  • Interview with Dr. Johnson, The Author’s Corner, 2016.
  • Book review of African American Religions.

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