Institutional Scholarship

Detangling White Identity: Looking at the Theological Implications of Whiteness in America

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Title: Detangling White Identity: Looking at the Theological Implications of Whiteness in America
Author: Kutler, Alexa
Advisor: Heckart, Jennifer
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Religion
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: For the first section of my paper I will describe the ways in which Whiteness is ultimately a religious identity, using the works of James Baldwin and James Perkinson. Then I will describe the ways in which the Fantastic Hegemonic Imagination (FHI) acts as a "God" from which Whites derive meaning. Next, I will look at understandings of difference as they are rendered in significant periods of American History. This will lay out a blueprint of White identity and look at its transformation from a religious project to a "secular embodiment." (Perkinson, 3) The focus of this section will be to unveil values and beliefs that color the FHI so that we might come to a better understanding of White value system was constructed. This discussion will help me articulate the idea that White identity at its core is religious (a.k.a. spiritual). This will be important for my overall argument because if the FHI, as God can be understood as an imaginative construction (and thus Whiteness as an identity which derives its meaning from this can also be seen as such) then we can have the potential to break from it by altering the way we imagine ourselves in relation to the world (religiously)? To address this, I will provide a collage of writings in order to highlight the roots of a White value system and argue that the locus of White values and beliefs can be found in concepts of difference that have been constructed through religion and science. Here I will show how our traditional conceptions of difference are rooted in a Protestant religious tradition. This section will help me to defamiliarize our understanding of difference so that we may see the constructed nature of the identities with which we are so connected today. The first chapter of this section will address the ways in which the racial categories of Black: White became conflated with the Christian notions of Heathen: Virtuous. The second chapter will then look at how these categories of difference were later translated into secular discourses through scientific and historical writings. In this space, beliefs are transformed into matters of nature and scientific fact. This will help support my general argument that for Whites, race is not only a category of social identity, but also one which helps us orient ourselves in the ultimate construction of what is. Whiteness is not only a part of our social identity but that it is also a category we believe in to the extent that it gives meaning to our place in the world. In my second section I will look at the ways in which Whites have 'worshiped' the FHI through appealing to the White system of beliefs which I layout in Section 1. My focus will revolve around the meaning of citizenship as it was articulated from the 1790s to the 20th century. I will explore this theme by showing how the body became the locus for the extent to which one was or was not "American" and by looking at the experiences of immigrant groups to "pass" as "White." For my third section I will illustrate the ways in which these patterns of belief and worship continue to influence White Americans today. I will do this by looking at discourses around White women and their hair. This will illuminate one of the many ways in which Whiteness continues to be reinscribed through secular rituals and visuals that appear to be simple matters of the everyday. For my conclusion I will discuss why this project is important for Whites. I will look at the ways in which our devotion to the FHI and the particular set of values it articulates, affects Whites on multiple levels and explore in light of Baldwin, into how we might reimagine our identities outside of this framework of the FHI.
Subject: Whites -- Race identity -- United States
Subject: Whites -- Race identity -- Religious aspects
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Kutler, Alexa. "Detangling White Identity: Looking at the Theological Implications of Whiteness in America". 2011. Available electronically from

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