J. Kameron Carter, race

More Quick Impressions of Carter’s Work

I’m still reading J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account, albeit rather slowly. I’ve got other things to do. But I do have some more impressions and quotes.

1. As far as I’m concerned, he abuses Kant, or is it that he exposes Kant? And not in a bad way, a good way. He makes Kant, the neo-Marcion, squeal. Granted, I’m not exactly up on Kant’s corpus and I’d need to spend more time studying Carter’s reading of Kant (or wait for a scholar with a specialty in Kant to review the section), but so far, Carter proves his point about modernism’s fundamental, pragmatic racial anthropology. Carter begins his summary of chapter 2 and introduction to part 2 with:

Thus, the “euthanasia of Judaism,” which Kant figures as coeval with the realization of the coming ethical community, only brings to completion a rational theology of the atonement in which the death of Christ is a dying away from Judaism and from all that makes one a “son of the earth” rather than a son of God. In short, it is a dying away from all that holds one “fettered to earthly life to the detriment of morality.” (pg. 120)

2. I was surprised that Christ was understood by Kant as a revolutionary: “Eh? I didn’t see that one coming.” Only to find out, the revolutionary Jesus is a Marcion-like (“white”) Jesus: no longer actually Jewish through the “loss of his covenantal identity as a Jew”, a supercessionist Jesus (117).

3. A senior theologian was right, I need to read more Foucault. He’ll help my own project, especially when addressing sovereignty and bio. Oh, and He sounds fun. History of Sexuality here I come, which isn’t about the history of sex acts… I think. Imagine that!

4. There is a short contrast between Agamben and Foucault, so its a good thing I’ve read some Agamben. But he doesn’t play heavily in the book (only a few times really), so no worries to those who don’t know Agamben. Also, Carter attempts to catch the reader up on his point about Agamben. When Cone talks about breadth, he isn’t joking. Carter closes chapter two, focused on Kant, with:

What the Kantian vision discloses, then, is that the dramas of race and politics in modernity are, in fact, a great drama of religion. Yet, behind the veil of this great religious drama is a less easily detected but controlling story, the story of how whiteness came of age as a theological problem that camouflages itself as just such a problem. When looked at from this vantage point, whiteness as a theological problem is inseparable from the production of the modern citizen on the one hand, who as a citizen subject is constructed in such a way that the body articulates the body politic. And on the other hand, it is inseparable from what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben refers to as the modern state’s constitution of itself through bios or bare life, life that is bounded by and ever exposed to death. This “death-bound subject” is “homo sacer,” or “sacred man,” the figure whose life is ever exposed to death or sacrifice for the life of the nation-state. Furthermore, Agamben grasps that the quintessential homo sacer figure of modernity is the Jew.

But what Foucault understood beyond Agamben, and what has been important for the argument developed here in part I of this book, is this: homo sacer’s sacrality is simultaneously religious and racial. Indeed, homo sacer’s dark body is the body not fully assimilable to the body politic, except by a process of excruciating violence. This violent process of assimilation is a singular process of racialization and “religionization”: religion racially dramatizes the body (politic) and vice versa. It is the religio-racial process as an immanent teleological process that functions internal to imperial power. It is this process that constitutes the Western metropole as white and in relationship to the colony as nonwhite. That is, homo sacer’s sacrality contains within it modernity’s Rassenfrage, which has as its animating center Judenfrage or the theological problem of gentile Christianity’s refusal to think its existence from within the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The three chapters making up part II of this book offer a reading of the field of African American religious scholarship as an ongoing attempt to diagnose this situation and respond to it. To this I now turn. (pg. 120-121)

5. “Cosmopolitan” functions as an ugly concept in this book so far. I can agree with that notion whole heartedly. Boy, do I wish I had this book when we reviewed Appiah’s book in class. Some of my favorite sentences are when he riffs on cosmopolitan secularism.


7 thoughts on “More Quick Impressions of Carter’s Work

  1. Robert says:

    I think Carter definitely focuses on a lesser known side of Kant. We normally see his epistemology or metaphysics discussed. But I believe Kant’s “autonomy” helps me understand his categorical imperative of ethics: “Act only on that which you would will as a command for all people”. In other words, the only action that should be done is the action that you would desire for all mankind.

  2. Carter makes note that he focuses on an earlier Kant, but argues, with a number of citations, that the racial and racist categories and concerns still drive a lot of what Kant does. And after Carter showing how Kant divides humanity into four and then just two races, one specifically imbued with a teological perfection, I am suspicious of what Kant means when he says mankind.

  3. Though I wouldn’t agree with them, I can imagine many people I know not buying the whole ‘racialised modernity’ argument insofar as it hinges upon this notion of an inherent anti-Judaism in post-Kantian modern thought.

    Does Carter spend a lot of time with a theological defense and account of the ‘Jewishness’ of Jesus? It seems a lot hangs on that point.

  4. Robert says:


    Carter defends that point via his discussion of Irenaeus’ polemic against Gnosticism, which is the initial part of the book. He states: “The problem of Gnosticism is the problem of its scriptural exegesis” (p. 20). Hence, by analogical reasoning Carter shows how both Gnosticism and Kant are guilty of divesting Jesus of his Jewishness.

  5. Scott, Carter spends the first part of the book dealing with power, supercessionism, and racial categories. One chapter of the first part is devoted to an analysis of Kant. There should be enough content in the book to at least give your friends a lot to think about.

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