Cover: Heathen: Religion and Race in American History, from Harvard University PressCover: Heathen in HARDCOVER

Heathen

Religion and Race in American History

Not yet available

Product Details

HARDCOVER

$35.00 • £28.95 • €31.50

ISBN 9780674976771

Publication Date: 05/17/2022

Academic Trade

368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

30 photos

World

An innovative history that shows how the religious idea of the heathen in need of salvation undergirds American conceptions of race.

If an eighteenth-century parson told you that the difference between “civilization and heathenism is sky-high and star-far,” the words would hardly come as a shock. But that statement was written by an American missionary in 1971. In a sweeping historical narrative, Kathryn Gin Lum shows how the idea of the heathen has been maintained from the colonial era to the present in religious and secular discourses—discourses, specifically, of race.

Americans long viewed the world as a realm of suffering heathens whose lands and lives needed their intervention to flourish. The term “heathen” fell out of common use by the early 1900s, leading some to imagine that racial categories had replaced religious differences. But the ideas underlying the figure of the heathen did not disappear. Americans still treat large swaths of the world as “other” due to their assumed need for conversion to American ways. Purported heathens have also contributed to the ongoing significance of the concept, promoting solidarity through their opposition to white American Christianity. Gin Lum looks to figures like Chinese American activist Wong Chin Foo and Ihanktonwan Dakota writer Zitkála-Šá, who proudly claimed the label of “heathen” for themselves.

Race continues to operate as a heathen inheritance in the United States, animating Americans’ sense of being a world apart from an undifferentiated mass of needy, suffering peoples. Heathen thus reveals a key source of American exceptionalism and a prism through which Americans have defined themselves as a progressive and humanitarian nation even as supposed heathens have drawn on the same to counter this national myth.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Cover: A Theory of Justice: Original Edition, by John Rawls, from Harvard University Press

John Rawls: Speaking in a Shared Political Language

On the occasion of the anniversary of the publication of A Theory of Justice, Andrius Gališanka, author of John Rawls: The Path to a Theory of Justice, reflects on some of Rawls’s ideas on moral and political reasoning