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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

R

Summary

Race Race is a category by which individuals, groups, and societies interpret diversity in the human family. As a way of making sense, race is founded in the interpretation of differences between human groups – most often differences in melanin content (colour), facial features, hair texture, and also culture. The primary function of race has been both to catalogue and, more significantly, to attribute meaning to these observed differences. The construction and continuing use of the category of race represents a particularly modern approach to a broader human tendency to construct regimes of knowledge that both ground and explain systems of socio-political hegemony by appeal to some putative substantial differences between peoples. While it has been a highly unstable category, race has been enduring in the modern period because of its presumed status as an objective description of reality. This use of race to legitimate systems of social power is a good point from which to explore the idea theologically. Such an exploration begins with some description of the interplay of religion and the social sciences during the formative period of modernity.

Race evolved as a sense-making tool during the period of western global hegemony – modernity – that also saw the rise of the modern physical and social sciences (see Natural Science). During this period Christianity (and religion more generally) was being challenged by the emerging scientific world view, yet during the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century Christian assumptions about human history (including God's providential guidance of it) continued to frame the field of vision for these sciences.

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