Theodore Vial, "Modern Religion, Modern Race" (Oxford UP, 2016)


The categories religion and race share a common genealogy. The modern understanding of these terms emerges within the European enlightenment but grasping their gradual production requires us to investigate further. In Modern Religion, Modern Race (Oxford University Press, 2016), Theodore Vial, Professor at Iliff School of Theology, argues that the intersection of religion and race can be better understood by looking at the work of nineteenth-century German romantics. In the post-enlightenment period religion becomes a racialized category. Vial examines the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Friedrich Max Muller, and Johann Gottfried Herder in order to outline the linked nature of race and religion as social categories. He puts their definitions and positions to work to determine the conceptual framework these authors deploy for theorizing difference. In our conversation we discuss Immanuel Kant on race, Schleiermacher as theologian and scholar of religion, the symbolic power of Max Muller within contemporary Religious Studies, the role of language and nation in the construction of religion and race, W. E. B. Du Bois, theological anthropology, analyzing Australian aborigines, and the legacy of nineteenth-century German constructions of race and religion for Religious Studies today.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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