Race and Religion: Intertwined Social Constructions

Race is a neglected category in Religious Studies. When race is included at all, it is often conflated with ethnicity or else its study is limited to a few typical examples, such as black/white binaries, the “Black church” or various “ethnic churches,” or the racialization of Muslim minorities. In this interview, Rudy Busto discusses problems and possibilities in the study of race and religion: how it has been examined (and overlooked) in the field of religious studies, how it has been confused with ethnicity, how race and religion have been theorized as mutually constitutive, limitations and occlusions in the study of race and religion, and why race is a category scholars of religion cannot afford to ignore. The racial/religious co-constitution of collective identities is an ever-present double-marked boundary which produces real effects on actual bodies, an empirical fact structuring people’s experiences. As such, scholars render their scholarship incomplete and do a disservice to their students and readers when they ignore race. Ranging from work on the social construction of race and religion as scholarly categories, the challenges of analyzing syncretism and authenticity, and the necessity of highlighting unmarked categories (e.g., Protestant, white), Busto argues that it is impossible to get an accurate and comprehensive understanding of religion (and non-religion) without taking race into account.

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