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From Protestant Supremacy to Christian Supremacy

  • Rebecca Anne Goetz

Extract

Over the last generation, historians have begun to explain Christianity's impact on developing ideas of race and slavery in the early modern Atlantic. Jon Sensbach's A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 showed how Moravians struggled with both race and slavery, ultimately concluding that Moravians adopted the racist attitudes of their non-Pietist North Carolina neighbors. Travis Glasson's Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World showed how the Anglican church accustomed itself to slavery in New York and the Caribbean. Richard Bailey's Race and Redemption in Puritan New England unraveled changing puritan ideas about race and belonging in New England. My own book, The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race, argued that Protestant ideas about heathenism and conversion were instrumental to how English Virginians thought about the bodies and souls of enslaved Africans and Native people, and to how they developed a nascent idea of race in seventeenth-century Virginia. Heather Kopelson's Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic traced puritan ideas about race, the soul, and the body in New England and Bermuda. From a different angle, Christopher Cameron's To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement outlined the influence of puritan theologies on black abolitionism. Engaging all this scholarly ferment is Katharine Gerbner's new book, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. Gerbner's work both synthesizes and transforms this extended scholarly conversation with a broad and inclusive look at Protestants—broadly defined as Anglicans, Moravians, Quakers, Huguenots, and others—and race in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries over a geography stretching from New York to the Caribbean. The book is synthetic in that it builds on the regional and confessionally specific work of earlier scholars, but innovative in its argument that Protestants from a variety of European backgrounds and sometimes conflicting theologies all wrestled with questions of Christian conversion of enslaved peoples—could it be done? Should it be done? And, of overarching concern: how could Protestant Christians in good conscience hold fellow African and Native Christians as slaves?

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References

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16 Sensbach, Jon, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Glasson, Travis, Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Bailey, Richard, Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Goetz, Rebecca Anne, The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); Kopelson, Heather Miyano, Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York: New York University Press, 2014); and Cameron, Christopher, To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2014).

17 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 3

18 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 2.

19 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 196.

20 Block, Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean; and Jenny Shaw, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean: Irish, Africans, and the Construction of Difference (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

21 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 100, 103–104.

22 Monroy, Eduardo Barrera, “Los Esclavos de las Perlas: Voces y Rostros en la Granjería de Perlas de Cabo de la Vela (1540–1570),” Boletín Cultural y Bibliográfico 19, no. 61 (2002): 24.

23 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 168.

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