Undomesticated Sacrifice: Theologies and Genealogies of Desire

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This dissertation approaches the question of Christian self-sacrifice through a particular problematic of race in the United States; specifically, where white supremacy “divides and conquers” by creating conditions for antagonistic relations between minoritized populations, broadly referred to as “racial triangulation” (Claire Jean Kim). As I demonstrate, theological logics mimic and reinforce this American sacrifice of racialized and gendered difference. My intervention provides an account of how two kinds of substitutionary logic are at play, rather than just the one-to-one logic that is typically assumed. I critically identify a substitutionary logic of equivalencies that allow for theological thinking to be interchanged with multiple trajectories of thought, in turn reinforcing the one-to-one thinking that contributes to the American liberal narrative of assimilative sacrifice.

In Chapter 1, I look closely at theological analyses of sacrifice, both that reject it for liberative possibilities, and those that attempt to retrieve it as a vital aspect of Christian practice. Focusing on the figure of the martyr as an image or stereotype of sacrifice allows me to articulate the mimetic assumptions that underlie both rejections and retrievals. Chapter 2 expands upon the ontological assumptions animating the stereotype, via the logic of surrogacy and mammy stereotype. I delve into the domestic space as a site for sacrifice, and how prevailing sacrificial narratives commodified the realities of black motherhood and family for the sake of economically ordering the domestic spaces of white households.

Chapter 3 continues to focus on the domestic space, but more explicitly examines the religious character of sacrifice as a logic of domestication. More specifically, the transformation of Asian Americans from yellow peril to model minority reveals the interchange of theological, economic, and political logics in the mission of Christian domesticity. Finally, Chapter 4 pushes into the question of sacrifice as one of genealogy. I attend to this problem by turning to the genealogical problems and promise of baptism, specifically as seen in Daniel Boyarin and Karl Barth. Constructively drawing upon Anne Anlin Cheng’s idea of “unlikely affinities” and Judith Butler, I offer up an undomesticated account of sacrifice.


Doctor of Theology




Koh, SueJeanne Joy (2017). Undomesticated Sacrifice: Theologies and Genealogies of Desire. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20174.


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