Panel on Christianity and colonialism in Chicago (#NAPS17)

The annual meeting of the North American Patristics Society approaches.

I’m on a panel called “Colonialism and Emergent Christianity: Late Antique Sources and Modern Historiography.”

Here’s the abstract for the panel:

Colonialism and Emergent Christianity: Late Antique Sources and Modern Historiography

This workshop explores occluded elements of colonialism which appear both in emergent Christianity, and in the long historiographical trajectory that has often defined the study of Christianity. Its purpose is to introduce a discussion within the discipline that addresses where and how colonialist patterns, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and eurocentrism have shaped, and continue to shape, the reception of Christian texts and contexts. Included papers will explore methods, and articulate approaches, which make visible, the colonialism present in our sources, and the historiography that addresses them. In this, our aim is to model approaches that offer alternate ways of talking about the past.

In four closely coordinated case-studies, we will examine the degree to which contemporary re-creations of late-antique history risk reinscribing the veins of ancient and historical colonialism already embedded in our sources. It is our hope that through re-examining late ancient/monastic(?) source material in light of subsequent interpretation, and vice versa, each will elucidate the other. In what remains an experimental foray, our hybrid approach will explore the shifts in parameters that result from using/privileging different sources (especially material remains and modern narratives about them), different geographical areas (outside of urban centres), and different chronological periods (taking issues with historicism and periodization of difference in general).

And this is the abstract of my paper for that panel:

Henri Marrou, colonial humanism, and the invention of Late Antiquity

Marrou’s “Retractatio” (1949) marked a critical departure in the way that the fourth and fifth centuries were understood by historians. Despite its importance, there has been little attempt in English-language scholarship to integrate this text into Marrou’s wide-ranging work and so key influences on the emergence of Late Antiquity as an object of scholarly enquiry remain unexplored. To address this gap in scholarship, this paper reads the “Retractatio” as a response to colonial humanism. In the 1920s and 1930s, l’humanisme colonial became the principal way in which French politicians, administrators and academics articulated the relationship between metropolitan France and its overseas territories. Colonial humanism insisted on the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings and so situated itself firmly within French Republican traditions. At the same time, it deployed a governmental structure that denied citizenship rights to some people in some places. To ameliorate this contradiction, colonial humanism posited an evolutionary model of culture that saw some cultures as more primitive and unready for self-rule. In this way, crude biological models of race gave way to explanations of racial difference as temporal difference, a model of temporality that consigned large sections of the world’s population to “the waiting room of history” as Dipesh Chakrabarty has put it. This paper will draw on Marrou’s journalism and his journals to show how the model of “culture” that he deployed in his “Retractatio” related to the model of “culture” articulated by colonial humanism. The paper will conclude by suggesting that the difficulty of defining Late Antiquity’s precise geographic and chronological scope (as noted by e.g. Arnaldo Marcone) is a legacy of colonial humanism.

This is the abstract and title for Blossom Stefaniw’s paper

Academic Fictions, the Western Imagination, and Writing the Tura Find

This paper is an experiment in decolonizing material narratives of papyrological finds. Positing that a strict separation between “us” and “them” is produced in part by the way we write about papyrological finds, giving an account of the circumstances of the find, the dispersal to museums or private buyers, the size and number of pages, always embedded in a racist-colonialist framework of ignorant Arabs and caves. The paper will demonstrate that this academic convention is not an innocent and objective technique, but rather a medium of colonisation in the relations between past and present, east and west. I examine in particular the case of the 1941 Tura Find near Cairo in the midst of the floundering North Africa campaign, exhibiting by means of an alternative narrative how much of the human and historical “truth” of these particular papyri is made invisible and thus relegated to the realm of non-knowledge by conventional reports of finds and ordinary papyrology-talk. This presentation is a reflection on the narrative account I have fashioned as the introduction to my current book project on the Tura Papyri. It will include both discursive commentary on the transgressive process of developing and executing an alternative approach, and examples of its application.



3 thoughts on “Panel on Christianity and colonialism in Chicago (#NAPS17)

  1. This paper (and the panel) look really fascinating and significant. I’m interested in the relationship between patristics, colonialism and whiteness, but I’m not able to make NAPS17. Do you have any plans to publish it?


    1. Hi Ben.


      There are some plans to publish papers from the panel, but I’m not sure what stage we’re at with that. I’ll know more after Chicago.


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