Religion, Race, and Orientalism

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In the text “Religion, Race, and Orientalism,” I learned how strongly Western influence changed my people’s (Pilipinx people) religious beliefs. I learned that religion was defined by western thought and defined during the 18th century as requiring a canon, a God, and a covenant that can be made with said God: “the dominant conceptual model…refers to a covenant that entails obligations between individuals communities and their God.” (Lee 131) Western religion focuses solely on a singular God, and this leaves other religions out of the picture, including shamanism, and other religions that believe in multiple deities.

This is an interesting fact to me as a Filipino American who’s practiced Catholicism (which believed in one deity, one canon) all our lives and is aware of Pilipinx indigenous communities belief in multiple deities/spirits. As our Spanish colonizers (and later our American colonizers) forcibly converted us to their faith, we’ve essentially forgotten our old religions. Many Pilipinx-Americans in the diaspora don’t know of the pantheon of deities that the indigenous people of the Philippines kept – and still keep. (Miller) The majority of the Philippines had been converted to Catholicism by our Spanish colonizers and remained to this day. Though a handful of indigenous people that still practice the pre-Hispanic belief system  – the majority of our people in the mainland, Manila, are Catholic! I find it sad that our colonizers so deftly managed to sweep away my people’s old traditions, beliefs, and customs because of their “crusade” to rid our people of our more “inferior” religious practices. The only reason I know of our pre-Hispanic religious/belief system is because I actively sought out more information about it. The superiority of Christianity essentially rid our Pilipino culture of its own belief system.

I also learned of the strong interconnectedness of race and religion in “Race and Racialization.” Specifically, I learned how racialization of religion has greatly influenced how we individuals approach our own faith. This is experienced by many Indian Americans who are immediately assumed to be practicing Hindu just because their skin is “the color of mocha.” (Joshi 96) It results in religion being one dimensional, and thus amplified the idea of “othering” religious groups and individuals. Ultimately, it seeks to oppress minorities who may/may not fit in to their “standard” religion.

One example I can remember is when I also went to a private, Baptist Christian high school. I always felt as if I was always going to be a “foreigner” though I classified myself as Christian like everyone else – though my family was notably Catholic. Though I said I was a born again Christian just like them, it didn’t stop them from asking questions such as: “where are you really from,” or seemingly innocuous remarks such as “you’re Filipino? I love lumpia!” It creates this one dimensional, stereotypical picture of me that was hard to steer away from. I was always going to be defined by my race despite accepting white Christianity. It’s ok wonder that after high school I was drawn back to my Catholic Church – because it was filled with people that looked like me and where I felt like I belonged. Racialization, in my personal experience, has affected the way I view white Christianity – as being seemingly “accepting,” but subtly oppressive.

I also learned in the video “Race and Racialization” of the importance of critically defining race as a social construct. Race was a human invention that essentially classified people in to a social hierarchy and gave rise to legitimizing white oppression and gave whites people the excuse to exercise their supposed superiority over another. (Frontline PBS) In the documentary “A Class Divided,” an experiment on creating socially constructed hierarchy (where a teacher deemed that brown eyed kids were inferior) leads to this false identity of superiority; one child when asked why he was so eager to discriminate, he says that it made him feel “like a king.” (Frontline PBS) This false sense of superiority defined by race gives white people the excuse to discriminate. This is exemplified in the way the Spanish approached their crusades- under the guise of “indigenous people are inferior, and we know better.” Because of this false sense of superiority, they managed to find an excuse to rape, pillage, and colonize brown people and take away their land and belief systems. It’s crazy for me to think that giving a group of people the excuse to exercise authority over another immediately leads to hatred – in a classroom setting it can be as small as teasing, but when applied in a larger context it leads to mass colonization, death, and oppression of a minority group for generations.

Works Cited

Frontline PBS. “A Class Divided.” Youtube, 18 Jan. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mcCLm_LwpE&t=12s

Joshi, Khyati. “What Does Race Have to Do With Religion?” New Roots in America Sacred Ground. New York, Routledge, 2016, pp. 89-117.

Lee, Jonathan, et. al., “Religion, Race, and Orientalism.” Asian American Religious Cultures. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2015.

 

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