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The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America Hardcover

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The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America + Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (September 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807835722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807835722
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* How did Jesus come to be portrayed as white? And why is he an inspiration for both white supremacists and slaves? Blum and Harvey trace the tangled history of religion and race in America, revealing how racial politics have affected religious practices and how religion has been used and misused in the practice of racial politics. Despite efforts by Puritans to escape depictions of Christ, Christianity in America evolved to rely on an image glorifying Europeans. Beyond the set image, slaves identified with a fellow sufferer, while masters identified with an image that reinforced notions of white superiority. New printing technology, industrialization, immigration, the rise of imperialism—all aided in the wide distribution of bibles with pictures of a white Jesus, reinforcing the notion of white superiority over darker-skinned people. Blum and Harvey explore how the image of Christ has been constantly remade to suit the social politics of individual nations, mostly blond-haired and blue-eyed but at times and places decidedly Middle Eastern, even Native American, black, and Hispanic, as believers have struggled to depict a savior in line with their deepest yearnings. Photographs and other images of Christ enhance this thoroughly fascinating book. --Vanessa Bush


-Huffington Post

"A powerful and groundbreaking book. . . . [Blum and Harvey] masterfully probe how a sacred icon can be a tool at once of racial oppression and liberation. A must-read for those interested in American religious history, this book will forever change the way you look at images of Jesus."
-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"A detailed engagement with contentious subject matter. Religion, politics, and race are often taboo conversation topics, especially in mixed company. But this work is neither shy nor pretentious about bringing all three subjects into conversation."
-Reggie L. Williams, Journal of Southern Religion

"Blum and Harvey's book should be in the running for several awards, if nothing else for documenting a central dynamic in American religious experience. [It] serves as a good model for future research into messianism and American culture and politics."
-Darren E. Grem, Journal of Southern Religion

"A tremendous resource for teachers seeking to educate students about the myriad movements in the U.S. that have taken Jesus' name and image, as well as general readers seeking a lively introduction to the topic."
-Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Journal of Southern Religion

"A work that highlights Indian voices more effectively than almost any synthesizing work in the field."
-Jennifer Graber, Journal of Southern Religion

"[A] compelling study. . . . This work will captivate readers of American religious and racial history."
-Library Journal

"Blum and Harvey have produced a rich and readable narrative that begins with the Puritans and concludes with Jesus in the age of Obama."
-Christian Century

"This model of academic inquiry and analysis is clearly written, deeply researched, socially engaged, ambitious in the intellectual scope of its questions about race and religion, and methodical in its answers."
-A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012

"Thoroughly fascinating."
-Booklist Starred Review and 2013 Top 10 Black History Nonfiction

"A fascinating story that we cannot afford to ignore."
-Books & Culture

"An insightful, historical opus delivering a sobering message about how we all might have been harmed, physically, by the generally-accepted image of the Messiah."
-Kam Williams

"Sweeping in scope. . . . A fascinating read for anyone interested in the power of sacred art to deform or transform society."
-Sacred Art Pilgrim

"Brings the story of religion and race in American history to life. . . . The Color of Christ is a valuable contribution to our understanding of race and religion and would be of value to anyone interested in the topic of religion and race."
-The Tidings

"We are indebted to Blum and Harvey for their effort to unearth and reveal this picture of American encounters with the images of Jesus. . . . This is an extremely powerful book. . . . A must read."
-Ponderings on a Faith Journey Book of the Year 2012

"A solid contribution to the conversation on religion and race in U.S. history. . . . The American Christian community remains trapped within a web of racial hierarchies, flawed theological assumptions and dangerous patriarchal precedents that continue to inform Christian doctrine and liturgy. The best way to treat an illness is to begin by discovering its root causes. The Color of Christ does just that."
-Christian Century

"The authors' breadth of research is impressive, and their incorporation of material culture is a model for future scholarship."
-Journal of American History

"[The Color of Christ is] an eye-opening look at how not just the image but also the idea of Christ has shifted within varying communities and schools of thought throughout American history."
-Pop Matters

"An engaging and sympathetic piece of scholarship that will appeal to a wide audience. It will be a significant contribution to many literatures, including those that consider European and American Christianity, constructions of race, and race relations."
-North Carolina Historical Review

"In The Color of Christ, two of our finest historians track the changing portrayals of Jesus in American life against the vicissitudes of history, especially the troubled waters of race relations. In so doing, they have produced both a splendid book as well as a unique perspective on American religious history. This is not the first study of the images of Christ in American history, but it is indisputably the best."--Randall Balmer, Dartmouth College

"Blum and Harvey are two of the most talented scholars of race and religion in the United States, and this pathbreaking book reflects their ability to integrate important historical analysis with beautiful and compelling narrative. The Color of Christ brilliantly draws on original research, the latest scholarship, and popular culture to transform the ways that we see Jesus past and present."--Matthew Avery Sutton, author of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America

"Both finely wrought interpretation and sweeping synthesis, The Color of Christ lays bare the racial transformations, political challenges, and deep ironies embodied in the image of Jesus. Edward Blum and Paul Harvey offer a compelling new view of race, religion, iconography. . .and America itself."--Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of History and American Studies, University of Michigan

"A sweeping study with a bold argument, clear style, and narrative power. Blum and Harvey explore how white Americans remade Jesus into a white icon and, at the same time, they delve into the contested nature of Jesus, with many groups finding their own meanings in him. This book is one of surprises, covering new ground and inviting readers to keep reading to see what new configurations of Jesus will take place around such major events as wars, economic depressions, social justice movements, and theological movements."--Charles Reagan Wilson, Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Chair in History and Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi

"Edward Blum and Paul Harvey have produced an original, impressive, and eye-opening work--as compelling in its vivid detail as it is astonishing in its immense historical sweep. The Color of Christ sets a new standard and establishes a new starting point for anyone interested in the intersection of race and religiosity in the United States. An illuminating study, for which we will long be indebted."--Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

"The refreshing and engaging story of how the concept of white Jesus was appropriated and used by Americans of all ethnicities to support their cultural, social, and religious intentions. Blum and Harvey's solid historical writing and deft use of material culture and media bring a fresh viewpoint to the subject of race and religion in America."--Anthea Butler, author of Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World

"Edward Blum and Paul Harvey's masterful book is a breath of fresh air in our toxic religious culture of learned ignorance and unlearned bigotry."--Cornel West

"In starkly poetic prose, this book takes a seemingly simple idea--examine evolving depictions of Jesus in America--and delivers punch after punch. Blum and Harvey provide a new, paradigm-changing window into the issues of race, religion, and power. Anyone wanting to grasp the depth of religion and race in the United States needs this book. It will transform what you thought you knew."--Michael O. Emerson, Rice University, author of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

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Customer Reviews

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We must commit ourselves to learning the facts and finding the truth from this point forward.
Elliott Miller
It will give them the insight needed to free themselves from all frabucated literature that has been flooded throughout American and abroad.
The Color of Christ is a great book on the production, dissemination and use of images of Jesus Christ throughout American history.
Jeremy Snyder

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Matthew S. Hedstrom on October 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants a scholarly but accessible treatment of the complicated relationship of religion and race in the United States. The book is so full of surprises and insights that I couldn't put it down. I was especially taken with the notion that a white Christ could be -- and has been -- used as a symbol to fight white supremacy, not just as a tool of white supremacy. This book draws on such a vast range of sources -- the arts, of course, but also social and political history -- and figures from many traditions, races, regions, and background, from across many centuries, yet manages to remain clear, concise, and on-point. Recommend!!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ben Sanders on October 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Christianity in the United States and its relationship to race, racism, and white supremacy. The imaging of Jesus plays an important role in the formation of U.S. Christianity, and "The Color of Christ" does a wonderful job of explaining why.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By sandra martin on April 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
What color/race was Jesus? Looking to find a clue in Jesus' origins, I discovered some sources that said he was originally Osiris, the mythologized cultural hero of ancient Egypt. Other sources said that Jesus was a spiritual teacher who originated in another part of the middle east. Either way, the consensus seems to be that Christ came from the "zone of confluence", the area of the world where, according to Cheikh Anta Diop, white people from the north mated with black people from the south. THE COLOR OF CHRIST : The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America does not delve into those claims. Instead, this work shows how Americans' depictions of Christ were malleable, psychological barometers in the nation's turbulent race relations.
Authors Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey begin with the little known fact that the Puritans did not believe in religious imagery. In fact, they destroyed images of Christ, envisioning him as light. But, as whites grew in numbers and power, their Jesus became white to sanctify and justify Indian and black oppression. To Native Americans, this emerging white Christ "became a foil, a means to denounce white hypocrisy, a religious symbol to inspire resistance". Blacks in America fashioned white Jesus into a suffering white man who undermined white authority. With the end of slavery and mass migration to America of darker people from Europe and Asia, there was the rise of the Klan and the eugenics movement. White Jesus became a whiter, Nordic-looking figure. Black liberation theology took root in the 1920's and 1930's Harlem Renaissance as artists and writers rendered Jesus a lynched black southerner.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Larry D on December 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those interested in United States cultural history, this history of race in America, American religious history, the history of religious art; I recommend this book. Highly. I hated to put it down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Snyder on February 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Color of Christ is a great book on the production, dissemination and use of images of Jesus Christ throughout American history. Written by Edward J. Blum, professor at San Diego State University, according to his profile, and Paul Harvey, professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, this investigation extends from the earliest days of European colonization in North America through to the present day. Through their investigation professors Blum and Harvey explore "the ways Americans gave physical forms to Jesus," found mainly in images at first (B&H, 7). They explore where Americans placed these representations of Jesus and how the representations of Jesus were remade so as to reflect the various religious, political and social aims of those desiring these representations. Framing their argument is the use of these representations with respect to power, especially with regards to the manner in which white people used the Son of God to support their claim of racial superiority.

In addition to the way in which white people in the United States used images of Jesus to support their claims to racial superiority, Blum and Harvey also chart "the places where Christ's whiteness was secretively transformed to undermine white power or to create experiences that mediated and challenged racial discrimination" (B&H, 8). One example is found in the way in which slaves in early America saw Jesus as a trickster of white people. As slaves were the downtrodden, the poor and weak, they viewed the teachings of Jesus as supporting them in their struggle for freedom and equality. From this view point, slaves were the last that would someday be first, while their white masters would someday be last.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MTSLisa on June 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book I was awakened to the effect we, as Christian educators, have on how people perceive Christ. As a Christian educator myself, I described how I felt after reading this book being as if I am a visitor to a unique museum where I am able to walk around and see the various ways the image of Christ has been utilized over time to gain power and to remove power. It is up to us as Christian educators to be aware of the influence we wield with a simple portrayal of Christ in our curriculum and other resources that we choose to utilize. Whether you realize it or not, you are framing others and their perceptions with such, so in my opinion you must read this book as a way to equip yourself to converse with others about that influence. Bottom line is, you cannot help, following the reading of this book, having learned something new about yourself and this world we live in as it relates to Christ's image and body and how that translates to power vs. lack of power.
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