Hilde Løvdal and Randall Stephens: Why did the two of you take on this project, which became your book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC Press, 2012)?
Paul Harvey and Ed Blum: On one level, the book began the first times we recognized that the Jesus images surrounding us in churches, Sunday schools, and on movie screens had histories. The book came from that feeling of dissonance when we saw representations of Jesus as white and knew, somehow, in our guts that it just wasn’t right.
On another level, the book emerged from years of studying independently the links between race and religion. We determined that it was time to take on the biggest symbol in the United States when it came to both: Jesus himself. We had read Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, FSG, 2003, loved it, but felt like it missed how profoundly race transformed imagery of Jesus and how much the racial images of Jesus influenced American history. When discussing our book idea with Martin Marty, he asked what it would look like to write a racially integrated story of Jesus as opposed to the ways Prothero segregated race into a few chapters. When we did that, we found profoundly complicated stories that not only featured racial conflict, but also demonstrated cross-racial exchange.
We started the book before we even met in person. Ed had reviewed Paul’s book Freedom’s Coming for H-NET and asked how the book would have looked different if it took into account art, literature, film, and material culture. At that point, we struck up an email conversation and planned an edited volume on race, religion, Jesus, and material culture. As we talked more and met every six months as part of the Young Scholars in American Religion, we decided that there was a monograph to be written. Six years later (and several very different iterations of the book thanks to amazing peer reviewers), we have the book!
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