Nineteenth-Century Contextualization of Race-Religion

Oded Y. Steinberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In her wide-ranging article, An Imperial History of Race-Religion in International Law, Rabiat Akande delves into the realms of history illustrating how the race-religion constellation became formative in current international law, specifically in Western discrimination toward minorities. As Akande writes, the legacy of that past survives in the continuing interplay of the racial and religious othering of the non-Euro-Christian other.1 This racialized-religious heritage, for instance, is evident in Western debates on the Hijab, Jewish circumcision (Brit Milah), and various other rituals practiced by religious minorities in the West. As a historian of the nineteenth century, in this essay I mainly focus on Akande's reconstruction of the historical aspect of the race-religion nexus. I begin by partially validating Akande's argument concerning the emergence of race-religion during the end of the nineteenth century, and by emphasizing Western racial discrimination against Islam and Judaism - the two sister Semitic religions. I then add what I see as important nuances that must be considered in the historical analysis of race-religion. Primarily, I illustrate how race-religion was fluid at times, allowing specific groups to enter Western civilization, while in other cases, race-religion was rigid, barring the inclusion of groups. Akande argues that the nineteenth century colonial expansion (in Africa, the Middle East, and India) dramatically contributed to the rise of the shared European categories of whiteness and Christianity. This emerging Western identity was antagonistic to the alleged barbarism of the non-whites and non-Christians. Nevertheless, further nineteenth-century inner-European contextualization is needed since the exclusion through race-religion also targeted, exactly at the time of this European imperial expansion, other fellow Christian whites, such as the Catholic Irish and Poles. It is not only whiteness per se that became prevalent, but a specific form of whiteness (e.g., Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, Aryan) that was constantly reimagined and redefined.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)108-113
Number of pages6
JournalAJIL Unbound
StatePublished - 20 May 2024

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Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s) 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press for The American Society of International Law.

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