episodes

This curriculum includes eight sessions with videos plus an optional pre-session. I have created reflection questions for every episode as well as outlines to help people follow the videos. You can download the materials for each session from the individual session pages. You can also download the entire curriculum here:

Pre-Session (Optional)

For some of us, talking about race and religion is challenging. It can mean looking critically at people and institutions about which you deeply care. These pre-session activities will help you identify some of the beliefs you bring to this study as well as what is at stake for you in those beliefs.

Episode One: Race, slavery, and Christianity in Colonial America

Have you ever wondered why, in the United States, slavery was based on race? Have you ever thought about why conversion to Christianity did not change the status of slaves? Using colonial Virginia as an example, this episode explores how race became interwined with slavery and how Christians used the faith both to challenge race-based slavery and to underwrite the identification between race and slavery.

Episode Two: What’s Race

The connection between slavery and blackness predated the arrival of Africans in Virginia. In this episode, we go back in time in order to explore the roots of the connection between blackness and slavery and the role Christians played in solidifying that association. We will also learn more about what race is (and isn’t) and why where our ideas about race come from matter today.

Episode Three: Christians, Race, and Nation in the New Republic

In the 1780s, a group of black Methodists left their church in Philadelphia when white congregants refused to let them pray at the altar. The story of those black Methodists is notable for many reasons: it speaks to the growth of Christianity among African Americans, the rise of independent black denominations, and the desire on the part of some white Christians to delineate who really belonged—and who didn’t—on the basis of race. In this episode, we will explore the growth of Christianity among African Americans and the ways that some Christian teachings could challenge racism. We will also see how other Christians created and enforced racial boundaries in both church and state.

Episode Four: Race, Christianity, and the Slavery Debates

In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln pointed out that people on both sides of the Civil War “prayed to the same God” and “read the same Bible.” Given these commonalities, it would seem like these people would have been able to resolve the question of slavery without resorting to arms. They could not. In this episode, we will see that, for many white Protestant Americans especially, a shared commitment to the Bible and to a particular way of reading the Bible made the question of slavery even harder to resolve. We will also see how racist thinking permeated biblical interpretation among many white Americans and why other ways of reading the Bible, including those on offer from black Christians, exerted little influence as the country moved to war.

Episode Five: Reconstruction: American Redemption?

In 1898, a group of white men in Wilmington, North Carolina overthrew the town’s elected (and somewhat racially progressive) Republican leaders. The coup was part of what many white Southerners called “redemption,” or the taking back of the South from what they considered black and northern rule. In this episode, we are going to explore how in the last three decades of  the nineteenth-century, many—but not all—white Americans, most of whom were Christians, defined citizenship as belonging only to white people and defined the country as, in its essence, a white, Christian nation.

Episode Six: Whose Nation?

In the 1920s, millions of white Americans joined a revived Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s message—that the country was made by and for white Protestants—resonated with people throughout the country. In this episode, we consider ways in which that logic, the logic that the United States was white and Protestant and that Protestantism and whiteness went together, affected where people lived, who went to the best schools, and who built wealth.

Episode Seven: Civil Rights: Myths and Realities

The Civil Rights Movement produced significant changes in the United States. For many people, it stands as one of the great moral and political achievements in the country’s history. Yet, over the years, myths have built up around the Civil Rights Movement, myths that make the Civil Rights Movement seem more celebrated and less contested than it was. These myths have made it easier to believe that most Americans supported the movement (or would have, had they been alive) and that Christianity underwrote it. In this episode, we explore the myths and realities of the Civil Rights Movement in the hopes that, by knowing the realities, we will not take comfort in incomplete myths but can wrestle with the challenges presented by a truer, but more complicated, history.

Episode Eight: How’d We Get Here?

Over the course of the twentieth century, the United States realigned politically. The solid, Democratic white South became a solid, Republican white South. African Americans largely moved from identifying with the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. White evangelicals, who had not been consistently identified with one party (owing, in part, to regional differences) became a key voting bloc for the Republicans. In this episode, we are going to explore why that realignment occurred and what it might tell us about what Christians of different races prioritize and how they think about the problem of racism in the United States.