Ethics in the Afterlife of Slavery: Race, Augustinian Politics, and the Enduring Problem of the Christian Master
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This project rereads the political thought of Augustine of Hippo in the Black Lives Matter era. In the last two decades, scholars of religion and politics made a striking return to the constructive resources of the Augustinian tradition to theorize citizenship, virtue, and the place of religion in public life. However, these scholars have not sufficiently attended to Augustine’s embrace of the position of the Christian slaveholder in light of the fact that the contemporary situation to which they apply his thought is itself the afterlife of slavery. The ghosts of slaves and masters live on, haunting the ongoing social meanings of blackness and whiteness in American life. To confront a racialized world, the Augustinian tradition must reckon with its own entanglements with the afterlife of the white Christian master. This reckoning demands a constructive encounter, at once timely and long overdue, between Augustine’s politics and the resources of modern Black thought. Drawing from these two intellectual traditions, this constructive religious ethics dissertation develops a critical account of the problem of the Christian master, even as it presses toward an alternative construal of key concepts of ethical life—agency, virtues, temporality—against and beyond the framework of mastery.
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