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Conversion as a Communal System of the Protestant Atlantic World

  • Kristen Block

Extract

Katharine Gerbner's wide-ranging and provocative book connects a broad range of scholarship on religion and race in the Protestant Atlantic world prior to the Great Awakening. It is organized around her concept of an emerging ideology of “Protestant Supremacy,” which she argues was the first step toward White Supremacy. This ideology came out of evangelizing failures in the seventeenth-century colonial Americas as Protestant slaveholders reframed their own values on religious and secular freedom in the context of colonial settlement and the growth of African slavery. This argument is entirely convincing and innovative in its comparisons of sometimes separate denominational scholarship. In my comments, I hope to reflect on Gerbner's use of the word conversion, a keyword in her book's title and one that many religious historians employ in their own work. Gerbner outlined her views in the introduction to her book (pages 6–12), but a fuller version of her arguments can also be found in her 2015 article published in History Compass, “Theorizing Conversion: Christianity, Colonization, and Consciousness in the Early Modern Atlantic World.” Her engagement with scholarly definitions rightly focuses on the malleability of what defined conversion in this eighteenth century Protestant Atlantic world—both when comparing different denominations and as a process that changed over time in conversation with things like slavery. She retains the word since the baptism and conversion of enslaved Africans prompted European Protestants to rethink their definition of Christianity, and particularly prompted them to find new ways to exclude non-whites. She also argues that using the term conversion helps to validate the actions and self-articulated changed identity of African-descendant converts as they engaged with majority white cultures hostile to their inclusion in the Christian community.

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References

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9 Gerbner, Katharine, “Theorizing Conversion: Christianity, Colonization, and Consciousness in the Early Modern Atlantic World,” History Compass 13 (2015): 134147.

10 Geertz, Clifford, “Religion as a Cultural System,” in Geertz, , The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 123.

11 Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” 112.

12 Block, Kristen, Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: : Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 7475, 84–85, 120.

13 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 155.

14 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 68–71.

15 Gerbner, Christian Slavery, 112–125.

Conversion as a Communal System of the Protestant Atlantic World

  • Kristen Block

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