Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies [Book Review]

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 34 (1):236-238 (2014)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies Edited by Bernadette J. BrootenEboni Marshall TurmanBeyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies EDITED BY BERNADETTE J. BROOTEN New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 352 pp. $30.00In her introduction to this edited collection of essays, Bernadette Brooten asserts that religion has long been complicit in the construction and practice of the logic of human enslavement. She provocatively claims that religion and the racial and sexual norms that emerge from religious inquiry have historically [End Page 236] designated women and other bodies that defy white male normativity as inherently “slaveable.” She further contends that the religious and sexual legacies of slavery are not relegated to a moment in time, now past and gone. Rather, contemporary society is the heir of a flesh-and-blood hierarchy that continues to shape its “social values, religious thought, and economic realities” (3). The remnants of enslavement persist among human communities not only as a lived reality that, as Mende Nazer suggests in the epilogue, continues to threaten the lives and life chances of poor women and children throughout the world, but also as a blood memory—a recollection that runs so deep into the social fabric of our theopolitical worlds that in spite of slavery’s superficial obscurity, it remains as the pulse of human everydayness, lurking beneath the surface of daily exchanges.The insidious legacies of slavery that emerge from bigoted God-talk promote dehumanizing racial-sexual stereotypes, dictate the quality of marriage and intimate relationships, corrupt and exploit sexual expression, and drive the development of public policy and law in ways that disproportionately marginalize and disempower women and girls. Consequently, this volume proposes resistance and calls readers to communal action that renounces slavery in all its forms.In parts 2, 3, and 4, the essays detail the racial, religious, and sexual character of slavery by focusing on the experience of black women’s oppression in America. This focus on the varieties of black women’s enslavement—from legal chattel slavery and social-political bondage to incarceration—provides the groundwork for the volume’s subsequent engagement of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic law, which demonstrates how slavery and its concomitant assignment and rationalization of embodied inferiority has been primarily cultivated by sacred texts. In her essay, for example, Sheila Briggs explicitly connects religious belief and dehumanizing practices; she ingeniously links religious textual interpretation with the sexual violence of early Christian gladiatorial practices in ancient amphitheaters.In parts 5 and 6, the volume reintroduces the substance of slavery’s legacies by way of a historical survey that connects enslavement across social contexts. In linking Debra Blumenthal’s discussion of slavery in late medieval Spain and Catherine Clinton’s analysis of the racial hypocrisies of Thomas Jefferson and Strom Thurmond to the problem of the Bible and the oppression it yields for sexual minorities as uncovered by Sylvester Johnson, Brooten exposes the vast and prevailing scope of slavery that affects all of us—women and girls, men and boys, sexual minorities, and even those who dare to fall in love across racial boundaries. In parts 7 and 8, Frances Smith Foster and Dwight Hopkins directly engage the “herstories” of black women who are marked by the legacies of slavery and yet who have consistently resisted in creative and effective ways (271). [End Page 237]Undoubtedly, this volume is a critical contribution to the field insofar as it uncovers an enduring social issue that continues to influence how we engage each other across differences of race, gender, class, and sexuality. The breadth of its disciplinary scope proves to be overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, Brooten’s constructive method serves well to emphasize the titanic complexity of enslavement and the challenge of its demolition.Eboni Marshall TurmanDuke Divinity SchoolCopyright © 2014 Society of Christian Ethics...

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