The Department of Religious Studies stands firmly with the call issued by the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies in pledging “to root out the scourge of anti-Blackness wherever it is discovered and however it manifests in the culture and operations of the Colleges.”
We commit to supporting Black lives and to working against anti-Blackness. We are grateful to the Black Lives Matter movement, the uprising in all its forms, and our Black colleagues for calling us to accountability. We commit to meeting that call. We recognize that police murders, lynchings and antiblack violence have taken place for decades and we are sorry that we waited for a global movement to make this statement.
We recognize that our field presents both challenges and opportunities. The religious texts we study have been marshalled in support of anti-Blackness, slavery, otherization, prejudice, violence, genocide, and injustice towards those not considered favored or chosen. Even the very definition of what constitutes “religion” has been and continues to be shaped by imperial and colonial constructs that seek to extract and create wealth across a vast geographical expanse through disparaging the religiosity, civilizations, and races of darker bodies in elevating white supremacy.
Yet, the ultimate existential questions that drive the human search for meaning, and for living purposeful lives that are morally accountable, have also led the texts we study to be marshalled into mighty movements positioned on animating the “arc of justice”, declaring a “preferential option for the poor”, and embodying “nonviolent resistance” and strategic pathways to addressing all forms of injustice. We recognize the ongoing production of structural injustice embedded in the neoliberal logics and practices of empire and situate the policing, violence and incarceration enacted on Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies in the discursive formations, institutional enactments, and social practices that often call upon religious formulations to legitimize their exploitation of difference. In our curriculum our mission is to develop in our students the ability to think critically about power and authority, whether it resides in texts, institutions, or practices, and to foster their ability to address power differentials and the injustices they spawn. But this is not enough. We must do more.
Therefore, we commit to:
- Coordinate current lectureship resources to focus on a year-long topic related to racism, especially with respect to anti-Blackness.
- Be far more intentional about integrating Black authors and writers into our classes, including those from outside the field of religious studies that can provide central insights into our methodologies and interpretive strategies.
- Be far more intentional about providing tools for students to recognize and name how texts and traditions are marshalled in service of anti-Blackness and oppression.
- Create a course on the Napier and/or Draper Center model that partners with one or more groups within the Black community to explore and act on these issues such as defunding police, and decriminalizing communities.
- Develop several courses within the Claremont Colleges RLST curriculum that directly address racism in its various forms, especially with respect to anti-Blackness.
- Create a pathway within the Claremont Colleges RLST curriculum for students who seek a minor relating to “religion and racism.”
- Find a way within our Department to assess, perhaps with the help of a mediator, how we have failed to support one another and/or inhibited one another in dealing with our own significant diversity.
- Engage our RLST majors in reading and reflection together on their own understanding of racism and how they might direct their energies now and as graduates to counter anti-Blackness.
- Push our professional associations to increase resources for thinking and teaching about race, explicitly engaging and fighting anti-Blackness, and creating space for Black scholars in the profession to thrive.
Jerry Irish, Emeritus