Jesus, Race, and Ideology Lecture and Book Review

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I am excited about my talk at the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge. This talk draws from my research in developing my American Jesus course. The above announcement recently went out; I am hoping to have a great conversation with folks who attend. The last lecture I gave there saw 20 – 25 people who attended. Here is my description of the talk: The Black Christian Communist in America starts with an address by the now defunct Knights of Labor’s Constitution, which opened with a biblical verse from Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.” The workers believed Jesus Christ’s teachings promoted a central socialist narrative of love and sacrifice for all people – not one against socialism, the poor, and marginalized, which has long been a construct of American Calvinists, who purported that Christ and his teachings were capitalist. The historical transformation of Christ, as a blond haired blue-eyed capitalist, will be juxtaposed to a darker skinned Christ, who was a socialist and thus marched with the poor, with sinners, and communists. This engaging discussion addresses the relationship of the American church and religion, its members, and the importance of race and socialism in eradicating societal inequalities dating back to the black power movement of the 1960s to ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ in the 21st century.


H-AmRel (History of American Religion) invited me to write a scholarly review for publication of the book “Black Power in the Bluff City: African-American Youth and Student Activism in Memphis, 1965 – 1975.” I am excited about finishing this work and grasping the complex historical narrative of Memphis — as presented by Shirletta J. Kinchen.


Teaching the Atlantic Market Thesis


I have taught this before, and as my students will tell you, it is a staple in my history course. I started the session off by presenting an illustration that conceptualizes the growth of European modernity and the birth of what Arnold Toynbee would call the “Industrial Revolution,” as students looked at the transformation from Lynda Shaffer’s article Southernization to what is called Westernization.

“The Industrial Revolution”is a term coined by Toynbee in the late 1800s and used by Marxist and socialist historians to attack “the captains of industry” and expose “the conditions of the working classes;” after World War II, conservative social scientists like Rostow used Britain as model for industrial “take-off.” Recent scholarship suggests the story is not so simple. See e.g. Peter Sterns.

I worked to draw a conclusion on the relationship between European constitutionalism, mercantilism, geo politics, and the expansion of capitalism. Because of these factors and a number of others, the British middle class promulgated the growth of Atlantic slavery while modeling a new economic paradigm that the French bourgeoisie and nobility would desire. Unlike the traditional Marxist’s interpretation of the revolution that claimed it started as a matter of class conflict between the third estate (peasants & bourgeoisie) and the first and second estates, recent interpretations claim the revolution was a result of the Atlantic market system. Feudal lands and titles no longer carried the wealth that the Atlantic market offered. With an ancient system in existence that prevented the French nobility from prospering in this newly minted Atlantic market, the second and third estate unified to overthrow the French ancient class system. The change in market forces ultimately contributed to the demise of feudalism in Western Europe, though this process was much slower for the East.

Besides the colonial wars fought for geo-political gain in the Atlantic market, the dawn of neo slavery emerged. Paradoxically speaking, this institution heightened during a period in which the literature addressed both natural rights and racial inferiority. I believe the process of understanding European history from 1450 to 1815 rest on students’ understanding of the Atlantic market.

My New African-American Studies Course

I presented this course syllabus to my amazing department chair for next year. I am not shocked by her endorsement and full support. I have spent a great deal of time doing the necessary research to make this course happen. Below is a draft proposed syllabus I presented to her; I will edit and address more specifics later about the daily approaches and readings. Because this is a full-blown seminar course, students will drive each meeting. Hence, there will be assigned discussion leaders, peer sessions, and unique focus settings empowering me in ways that my AP courses do not allow. Further, with my content knowledge and expertise in designing courses, I will be able to take students to levels they have yet to journey.

African-American Studies
Course Syllabus

Instructor: Edward Carson
History Department

Contact Information
Office: (978) 725-6300 ext. 4858 (Link building 306)

My website:

Student Recommendation: 5th and 6th Formers

Course Description

The African American experience spans almost 400 years in the annals of world history. The dawn of the European arrival in Africa to the advent of forced migration across the Atlantic amidst the trepidation of the most noted middle passage is only the start of the African American journey towards political, social, and cultural emancipation. This course looks at the early stages of this journey, in which African Americans will endure slavery, Jim Crow, and full citizenship by the 1960s. In addition, the course addresses the impact this narrative had on the emergence of African American religion, literature, poetry, music, art, dance, food, and science. Works by Ralph Ellison, Countee Culleen, Toni Morrison, and “Nikki” Giovanni, Angela Davis, and Tupac Shakur are a few of the works that are studied. Conversations regarding the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the rise of “black as beautiful” during the 1960s allow students to critique the changes witnessed for African-Americans. This course is a hybrid of the study of English literature, religion, race, history, and film studies, and includes a field trip to the African-American History Museum in Boston.

Course Components
Instructional Method: African-American Studies is a seminar course in which daily discussions involving the analysis of primary and secondary readings, as well as the viewing and listening of African-American film and music. Success in the course is predicated on the student’s ability to engage in the discussions and offer independent thought to the conversation.

Exams, Papers, and Participation: There are two take-home exams per semester. Exams are intended to measure growing knowledge of historical, sociological, and anthropological themes addressed in the course. Students engage in a case study, examining an aspect of their life in which the dynamics of African-American culture is a featured construct of racism, gender, sexuality, and class.

Two 5 – 7 page papers — 15%
Independent case study — 15%
Take-home Midterm — 25%
Take-home Semester Final — 25%
Participation & — 20%
Oral Presentations

Required Readings

1. When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings
2. There is a River by Vincent Harding
3. Introduction to African-American Studies by Talmadge Anderson
4. Native Son by Richard Wright
5. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Course Outline

I. African Heritage and the Slave Trade
II. The Slave Community: Oppression and Resistance
III. The Free Black Community
IV. Civil War and Reconstruction Period
V. W.E.B Du Bois
VI. The New Negro
VII. Harlem Renaissance
VIII. Great Depression to the Cold War: The Rise of the Communist Negro
IX. Black Folks and the 1950s
X. 1960s and Civil Rights
XI. The Rise of the Cosby Decade
XII. Black Culture and Political Rap
XIII. Changing Black Thought in the Age of Tupac
XIV. Obama and Post-Racial America

So, here is the email I sent out to the Brooks School community regarding Dr. Edward Blum’s visit to campus this week. Students here are fortunate to hear Blum speak and teach them in a classroom setting. Also, earlier today students heard from John Fea, author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Fea, who chairs the history department at Messiah College was wonderful in his presentation. I have another post coming regard his talk.

Dear Brooks Community:

Have you ever pondered why many black Americans view Jesus as the black Messiah?
How can the Son of God be used to support the notion of white supremacy and the rise of the KKK, yet be used by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists to bring an end to American racial injustice?
Is Tupac Jesus Christ? Or is Jesus Christ Tupac?
Is Jesus a communist?
Does Jesus really exist? And if so, why do so many people claim him as theirs?


I am honored to announce the arrival of my friend and colleague Edward Blum to the Brooks campus. He will be delivering a presentation on Thursday night in the Dalsmer room at 6 PM on behalf of the American Jesus Winter Term course. Blum, who authored both The Color of Christ and W.E.B. Du Bois: The American Prophet will engage you in the above points while answering questions on his research, teaching, and writing.

Blum is a historian of race and religion in the United States. He is the author (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (2012), W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007), and Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005). He is also the co-editor (with Paul Harvey) of The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History (2012), (with Jason R. Young) The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009), and (with W. Scott Poole) Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (2005). Blum has been awarded the Gustave O. Arlt Award in the Humanities by the Council of Graduate Schools for the best first book by a historian published between 2002 and 2009 (2009), the Peter Seaborg Award for the best book in Civil War Studies (2006), and the C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize for the best dissertation in southern history (2004). Twice he has been recognized by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights and in 2007 was named by the History News Network a “top young historian.” He has been a fellow with the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the classroom, Blum engages the past in a variety of ways, whether through music and images or debates and historical simulations. His courses include Antebellum America, the Civil War and Reconstruction, American religious history, and history through biography. He is a co-editor of the teaching blog and with Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and Jon Gjerde of Major Problems in American History.

Winter Term: A Course on the Ubiquitous Christ


I will be teaching my very first Winter (also known as January) Term course starting this week. My course, entitled American Jesus, will challenge students to examine this Christ like character. In the process, much of our attention will center around Christ’s impact on nationalism, music and popular culture, politics, as well as gender and sexuality. Furthermore, we will read from various works, review documentaries, interview and listen to guest speakers discuss their perception of Jesus. Ultimately, students should conclude that the notion of Christ is ubiquitous. Even if a person does not believe in Christ, the mere notion of him has shaped our historical development and sense of current complexity. Students will construct various projects, maintain a portfolio, and present a final piece on what and who Jesus is to them. Though the course might seem like a religious one, it is far from it. It is more historical, sociological, and anthropological in nature. It is an in-depth study of the self and the social realities that define the self. In the end, it is a great course.

I love the autonomy of the course too; I set and maintain when we meet and for how long we meet. The expectation is that students should be actively engaged in the course for six hours a day. Now, those hours are not all contact hours. They can be in the form of individual research and study, planning and organizing, or off campus endeavors such as a field trip. In the end, the courses we teach are designed to be in-depth, experiential, interesting, creative, and one that further develops students’ skill set.

I am still mapping out our meeting times, my office hours, and assigned presentation dates.

More on American Jesus

I have mentioned this on my blog before, but here at Brooks, we offer specialized electives called Winter (or January) Term. My academic interest looks at religion and race, and how they impact the historical narrative. Thus, I have designed my course on looking at Jesus by way of popular culture. Winter Term course catalogs were released today.

The notion of Jesus Christ has been a transformative one over the course of history. This course looks to explore Americans sense of Jesus Christ as promulgated through the lens of American traditionalism, popular culture, music, and academic focus. TV shows such as Family Guy, South Park, and other documentaries aim to encapsulate various views of what Jesus looks like, and who he is to many people. The course will not only explore such TV shows as noted in the aforementioned, but it will also delve into the complexity of race, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, students will examine Americans fascinations with hip-hop artist, such as the late rapper Tupac Shukar who too identified his rhythmic sounds and lyrics to that of Jesus. Artist, such as Tupac, inculcated a sense of lyrical spirit as a representation of black urban suffering.

Furthermore, this course will delve into the literature of American religious historians Edward Blum and Paul Harvey whose work, The Color Christ asks the question: How can the Son of God be both a representative of white supremacy and that of racial reconciliation by the 1960s? Students will have the opportunity to read this work as well as Steven Prothero’s American Jesus. Time will also be spent discussing the religious pursuits of popular figures such as Kenye West, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Billy Graham, as well as Presidents such as George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama’s sense of American politics and religiosity. Students will enjoy the viewing and analysis of documentaries that question the reality of Jesus Christ.

Eight Reasons the Challenging Classroom Pays Off

Academic institutions are often defined by the extent of their rigorous curriculum. In many ways, it is what sets schools apart. Rigor is the key to learning. However, it is one of many things that promotes good teaching and learning. A departmental colleague of mine shared this WSJ piece:

In this thoughtful Wall Street Journal article, Joanne Lipman remembers Mr. Kupchynsky, her tough-to-the-point-of-abusive orchestra teacher at East Brunswick High School in the 1960s. Mr. K, as students knew him, would call students “idiots” if they messed up and shout “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” if someone played out of tune. “He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled,” she says.

But when Kupchynsky died a few years ago, there was an outpouring of love and respect from hundreds of former students who had gone on to success in a variety of fields. “Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement,” says Lipman. “But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.”
Lipman’s question: “What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?” Stressing that she doesn’t support abuse (“I’d be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names”), she lists the following:

• A little pain is good for you. The much-quoted study by psychologist Anders Ericsson showing that 10,000 hours of practice is needed to attain true expertise also found that the path to proficiency requires “constructive, even painful, feedback.” High-performing violinists, surgeons, computer programmers, and chess masters “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.” [See Marshall Memo 192 #3 for a related article.]

• Memorization pays off. Fluency in basic math facts is the foundation of higher achievement, but many American students aren’t learning their times tables and basic math facts. Lipman says one reason Asian students do so much better in math is the hours of drill in their schools.

• Failure is part of the learning process. In a 2012 study, French sixth graders were given extremely challenging anagram problems. One group was told that failure and persistence were a normal part of the learning process, and this group consistently outperformed their peers on subsequent assignments. Lipman says American parents and educators worry too much about failure being psychologically damaging and haven’t given children the right messages about failure being intrinsic to the learning process.

• Strictness works. A study of Los Angeles teachers whose students did exceptionally well found that they combined strictness with high expectations. Their core belief was, “Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it – and I can do something about it.” A fourth grader summed it up: “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teacher coddled me. When I go to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”

• Creativity is not spontaneous combustion. “Most creative geniuses work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs,” says Lipman. Creativity is built on a foundation of hard work on the basics.
• Grit is more important than talent. Angela Duckworth’s study of 2,800 high achievers found that the best predictor of success is passion and perseverance for long-term goals, not innate talent. Another key element of grit is students’ belief that they have the ability to change and improve, and this can be inculcated by teachers who share that belief.

• Praise must be strategic. As Stanford professor Carol Dweck has found, complimenting students for being “smart” has negative consequences, whereas praising a student for being a “hard worker” leads to greater effort and success.

• Moderate stress makes you stronger. Researchers have found that being exposed to challenges – including “a hardass kind of teacher” – builds resilience and confidence. What’s going on here? Lipman believes it’s that students are picking up an underlying faith in their ability to do better. Thinking back to Mr. K’s super-tough approach to his orchestra, she says, “There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.”

“Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results” by Joanne Lipman in The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013,