Masking the Race-Religion Constellation in Europe and the US

NOSTER Grand Course 2017

Course description:
The NOSTER Grand Course is a biannual intensive two-day course in which junior researchers gain in-depth knowledge on a specific theme that is relevant for both; theologians and religious studies scholars. This year’s theme will be ‘Masking the Race-Religion Constellation in Europe and the US’.

‘Masking the Race-Religion Constellation in Europe and the US’
The topics of race/racism/racialisation and religion/theology are all too often dealt with separately. On a scholarly level, critical studies on the ‘secular’ or religious studies/theology in general, do not engage with critical race/whiteness studies and vice versa. At the same time, public debates on religion (especially Islam and Muslims) are mostly not addressed in terms of (post)colonialism and the history of racialization. This separation is strange since historically colonial racial and religious hierarchies have been closely intertwined. During this course, we will explore these intersectional race-religion constellations: what is hidden and why? And how is this constellation between race and religion related to our own fields of study and our societal contribution as scholars? In addition, we wish to show the empowering and resistance potential of religion and theology (in its collaboration with different religious traditions) and as such we will outline how Black theology and Black churches in the USA have been dealing with this entanglement of whiteness and secularity/Christianity and thus how from its very beginning religion/Black Christian theology played a role in opposition against oppression and violence. This insight will be supplemented by a more European example of the resistance potential of religious traditions taken from the resources of Muslim feminism. From this our focus turns the academic resources to rethink our religious studies/theological canon as well as our responsibility as scholars to contribute to public debates in a critical way. The course will thus only explore new links between theology, religious studies, critical race studies, and decolonial studies, but also consider the ways in which our own academic backgrounds, experiences and affects play a role in the topics under discussion.

  • ‘Judeo-Christian Europe’s practice of Divide and Impera. Masking the race-religion constellation. (Anya Topolski) General introduction to the seminar, mapping the field of race-religion-critical whiteness studies and the race-religion constellation. What does it hide and why?
  • Black theology and resistance in the US (Lucas Johnson) How did/does religion/theology play a role in black resistance against oppression and violence. How is this concept of ‘religion/theology’ different from commonly held notions of religion/theology?
  • Intersectional critique and Muslimfeminism: Practices and discourses of resistance: which battles to fight, and discourses of resistance from intersectional theory and Islamic theology (Berna Toprak.)
  • Critical race theory and race/(de)coloniality in Academia (Nawal Mustafa & Matthea Westerduin) Introduction to some crucial insights from critical race theory and its importance at the university and in the classroom.
  • Positionality and dealing with everyday racism in Academia(Kolar Aparna & Femke Kaulinfreks). Workshop
  • Reflection How are the topics discussed so far related? How does all of this affect us as scholars/theologians and in our work at the university?

The course takes place on December 7&8th 2017. Participation on both days is mandatory. Participants are expected to prepare the readings and additional assignments

General aims:
To provide participants with conceptual and methodological tools that will enable them to comprehend and respond to debates on ‘race’, religion, and their possible relations. Tools and insights to engage with the ways in which our own experiences and affects play a role in the topics under discussion.


Wednesday December 6th
20.00-22.00     (Recommended) Radboud Reflects presents a Public Lecture by Lucas Johnson on ‘The wrong history of the US’.
How to deal with America’s racist history and its contemporary legacies, in light of recent events in Charlottesville and protests against white supremacy statues. Response: relationalities with European questions on racism and colonialist legacies

Thursday December 7th
09:30 – Coffee
09:45-10:00 – Welcome and introductions to the day
10:00-11.15 – Seminar with Anya Topolski

11:15-11.45 – Coffee break
11.45-13:00 – Seminar with Lucas Johnson

13:00-14:00 – Lunch break
14:00-15:15 – Seminar with Berna Toprak
15:15-15:45 – Coffee break
15:45-17:00 – Discussion

17.30- 20.00 – Dinner (optional)

Friday December 8th
09:30 – Coffee
09:45-10:00 – Introductions to the day
10:00-11.30 – Seminar with Nawal Mustafa & Matthea Westerduin

11:30-12:00 – Coffee break
12:00-13:30 – Femke Kaulingfreks & Kolar Aparna

13:30 -14.30 – Lunch break
14:30-16.30 – Reflection

15:15-15:45 – Coffee break
16.30-18:30 – Drinks

Course Coordination: Matthea Westerduin, Anya Topolski  
2 -5 EC (2 EC for 2 days participation, 40 hours preparation, 3 EC extra for paper writing afterwards)
Level: The course is open to students of accredited Research Master programmes and to PhD-students. In some cases, research-oriented students from other master programmes may be admitted. For further information, please contact the office (
Location: Nijmegen
Required reading: t.b.a.
Course-specific admission requirements: This course is open to all PhD- and Research Master students in the field of Theology and Religious Studies.
Language: All the assigned readings will be in English, as will be the lectures and discussions, unless all the participants should happen to be fluent in Dutch.
Costs: Participation is free for NOSTER members. For those who are no members of NOSTER the fee is € 50,- per EC. For more information about membership/costs per EC, see:
Registration: Those who are interested in following this course can apply until December 1st. Registration is required via the NOSTER website. When logged in to your personal account on the NOSTER website a register button will appear on the right. A certificate of attendance can be given to the participants after finishing the course. In case you are an external student your supervisor has to send NOSTER an email (, giving his or her consent with your participation.
Credits: 5 EC
Course-specific admission requirements: The course is open to PhD candidates and research master students in empirically oriented fields in theology and religious studies. If you are not a member of NOSTER but are interested in participating in the Grand Course, please contact

Literature and assignments:

The readings for the first session provide a framework and points for reference throughout the course as they theoretically reflect on the religion-race-theology constellation (Masuzawa, Maldonado-Torres, Topolski), race/coloniality (Grosfoguel, and the ‘secular’ (Mahmood). The readings for session II-IV consist of one/two key texts and links to video’s or essays dealing with specific topics. During the discussions and moments of reflection we will explore the relationalities between the separate sessions and the general readings and overall topic(s) of the course

Session I: Exploring relationalities between religion, race/coloniality, theology and the secular


The first assignment must be written before reading any literature:

  1. Define, or give possible definitions, of the two terms ‘religion’ and ‘secularism/the secular’ as they are (often) used in your studies. Do the same for the term ‘race’/racialization (Max 1,5 A4).

After reading Masuzawa and Mahmood (or Dhawan, Hirschkind or Asad):

  1. What, according to these authors do these two terms (religion/secularism/the secular) mean? (Max 1 A4).

After the two-day class:

  1. Write the third part of the assignment, in which you explore possible connections between secularism/the secular and religion on the one hand, and race/coloniality on the other (2 A4).
  • Masuzawa, Tomoko. The invention of world religions: Or, how European universalism was preserved in the language of pluralism. University of Chicago Press, 2005. Introduction 1-29.
  • Grosfoguel, Ramon, Laura Oso, and Anastasia Christou. “‘Racism’, intersectionality   and migration studies: framing some theoretical reflections.” Identities 22.6 (2015): 635-652.
  • Maldonado‐Torres, Nelson. “Race, religion, and ethics in the modern/colonial world.” Journal of Religious Ethics 42.4 (2014): 691-711.
  • Topolski, Anya, ‘The race-religion constellation A European Contribution to the Critical Philosophy of Race’, Critical philosophy of race 6 1 (2018) 59-81.
  • Mahmood, Saba. “Religious reason and secular affect: An incommensurable divide?.” Critical Inquiry 35.4 (2009): 836-862.
  • Dhawan, Nikita. “The empire prays back: Religion, secularity, and queer critique.” boundary 2 40.1 (2013): 191-222.

Additional readings (optional):

  • Asad, Talal. “Thinking about religion, belief, and politics.” The Cambridge companion to religious studies (2012): 36-57.
  • Hirschkind, Charles. “Religious difference and democratic pluralism: Some recent debates and frameworks.” Temenos-Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 44.1 (2011).
  • Grosfoguel, Ramón. “The structure of knowledge in westernized universities: Epistemic racism/sexism and the four genocides/epistemicides of the long 16th century.” Human architecture 11.1 (2013): 73.
  • Carter, J. Kameron. Race: A theological account. OUP USA, 2008.
  • Jennings, Willie James. The Christian imagination: Theology and the origins of race. Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Stam, Robert, and Ella Shohat. Race in Translation: Culture Wars around the Postcolonial Atlantic. NYU Press, 2012.
  • Anidjar, Gil. Semites: Race, religion, literature. Stanford University Press, 2008.
  • Shohat, Ella, “The Sephardi-Moorish Atlantic: Between Orientalism andOccidentalism.” (eds.) Shohat & Alsultany, Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora (2013): 42-62.

Session II Lucas Johnson: Black theology and practices of resistance in the US

Session III Berna Toprak: Intersectional critique and Muslimfeminism: Practices and discourses of resistance


  • Wadud, Amina. Inside the gender Jihad: women’s reform in Islam. oneworld Publications, 2013. Chapter 1 ‘What’s in a Name’.
  • El-Tayeb, Fatima. European others: queering ethnicity in postnational Europe. U of Minnesota Press, 2011. Introduction and chapter 3 “Secular Submissions” (Watch at least 1 video)


Google “Linda Sarsour” and write 3 things that you notice

Additional readings (optional):

  • Al-Saji, Alia. “The racialization of Muslim veils: A philosophical analysis.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 36.8 (2010): 875-902.
  • Braidotti, Rosi. “In spite of the times: The postsecular turn in feminism.” Theory, culture & society 25.6 (2008): 1-24.

Session IV: Nawal Mustafa & Matthea Westerduin: Critical race theory and race/(de)coloniality in academia


  • Lentin, Alana, ‘Race’, in W. Outhwaite and S. Turner (eds.): Handbook of Political Sociology, forthcoming
  • Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. “Outline of ten theses on coloniality and decoloniality.” Franz Foundation (http://franzfanonfoundation) Accessed 27 (2017). Introduction, theses 6-10.
  • Stam, Robert, and Ella Shohat. Race in Translation: Culture Wars around the Postcolonial Atlantic. NYU Press, 2012, Section: “The Protocols Eurocentrism”: p. 95-103 from pdf version of the book.

Discussion on ‘Can non-Europeans think’:

Examples of decolonial knowledge, religion, affects, and esthetics

‘Poetic Pilgrimage’, Muneera Rashida and Sukina Abdul Noor, British Muslim hip-hop duo, Black Girl Twirl

Patricio Guzmán’s documentary, El Botón de Nacar (The Pearl Button) Pre/colonial history of Chile and its 20th century dictatorship from the perspective of the Ocean and its memory. Decolonial aesthetics and time/space/humanity relation?

Description: The ocean contains the history of all humanity. The sea holds all the voices of the earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of two mysterious buttons which were found on its ocean floor. Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline and the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. This film shows that it also has a voice.


Can you think of other examples that could be described as decolonial knowledge/affects/politics/emotions/religion?


During the second part of this session we will discuss how particular bodies of knowledge/experiences have been structurally excluded from academic knowledge.

Write in preparation for this session a short intellectual biography (1A4)) about the following questions: are there bodies of knowledge/experiences that you have been raised with that were structurally excluded from the places where you studied? How did this relation between institution and your own experience/knowledge/interest develop throughout your studies/research? In which ways are these in/exclusions related/unrelated to the topics under discussion of this course?

Additional readings (optional)

Essed, Philomena, and Isabel Hoving. “Innocence, smug ignorance, resentment: an Introduction to Dutch racism.” Dutch racism (2014): 9-30.

Session V: Kolar Aparna & Femke Kaulingfreks: Positionality and dealing with everyday racism in Academia

This session will consist of a collective reflective, interactive workshop about our own positionalities, building on what has already been discussed/read throughout the course. There are no additional readings for this session.