Interfaith Responses to Racism

Edmund Pettus Bridge

On this page, the Office of Religious Life will be sharing various interfaith resources in response to racism that our office has developed over the past few years. We hope that these offerings can provide perspective and a space for thoughtful reflection in light of the structural racism and discrimination against Black people that the U.S. is wrestling with at the moment.

Scriptural Responses to Racism

Christian Tradition

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” - Galatians 3:28

This text, perhaps part of the Church’s earliest baptismal liturgies, proclaims that race, religion and ethnicity are no barrier to human equality (“Jew or Greek”), neither is social class or economic disparity (“slave or free”), and neither is gender identity (“male and female”).

Genesis 1:27:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

This foundational text from the Hebrew Bible’s account of God’s creation of all things testifies to the fact that every human being is “imago Dei” -- made in the image of God.  God’s divinity is envisaged in every human being and there is no hierarchy of value amongst human beings, not by race or any other category.  Every human being is equally created in God’s image.

Acts 10:34-35 NRSV: Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” 

“No matter our place of origin, the same God reaches out to us; the same gospel calls us home. Social boundaries and ethnic differences are no obstacle to the gospel. Such differences are not an irritant in need of remediation or a problem for God's church. In the eyes of God, all of us in our wonderful particularity equally receive the invitation.” - Dr. Eric Barreto, Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary

1 Samuel 16:7 NRSV: But [God] said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for [God] does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but [God] looks on the heart.” 

In Samuel’s search for a future king, God tells Samuel to not choose a leader based on solely on their outward appearance. This text warns of the evil and harm of giving authority to and placing value upon people based on appearance. Today, and throughout history, we have seen the dehumanization of people and the establishment of systems based on race and racism.

Buddhist Tradition

“Not by caste, race, or creed, or birth is one noble, but by heart alone is one a noble being.” - The Buddha 

In his time the Buddha was a revolutionary voice against racism and the caste system: “Not by caste, race, or creed, or birth is one noble, but by heart alone is one a noble being.” The Buddhist trainings in mindfulness, wisdom and compassion, create the grounds for wise speech and wise action.  These teachings and practices free our hearts from greed, prejudice and hate and serve an essential role in societal healing, and in the awakening of all. -Buddhist Statement on Racial Justice (2015)

“Although sentient beings are immersed in such sorrows, they rejoice and play. They are not aware, shocked, startled, or disgusted nor do they seek release. Running around in the burning house of the triple world, they experience great suffering and yet they do not realize it.” -The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 3, Section 13a, translated from Chinese by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama

In this classic parable, a father pleads with his children to leave their burning house while they ignore him to continue playing. Eventually, in desperation he tricks them outside with lies of the different carts they can ride. However, the Sutra makes clear that these lies were “by no means a deception. Why? Because [the children] were saved from the burning house by skillful means.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter 3, Section 13a). Since its beginning, our society has not “sheltered” all of its members equally. We do not have to reach beyond the stories of Merci Mack, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery to find evidence that our society is corrupt and failing. Our house is on fire. While some of us have been risking our lives for decades to speak out about it, others of us have been caught up in the toys and joys of our lives. And yet, over a matter of weeks many of us have been shook out of this reverie by seeing police stations and department stores on fire, the protestors out front calling us to freedom from a system that burns us all. What other skillful means do we need now to sustain change? -damaris miller ‘15 

“The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising and their Extinction are not separate self entities. Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being, the End of Ill-being, the Path, insight and attainment, are also not separate self entities.” - The Heart Sutra, translated by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

If Avalotikeshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, was giving this teaching today, he might have simply said, “Black Lives Matter.” Our lives are arising in this moment because the lives of all the other beings around us are simultaneously arising. Therefore, when ill-being is arising for one of us, it is arising for us all. If we aim to bring forth liberation, Avalotikeshvara is encouraging us to face the “causes of ill-being” that obstruct freedom, such as the violence of anger, greed, and ignorance. For example, we can apply the Path of insight and attainment (questioning and transforming) to the historical and continued enslavement, brutality, and murder of Black people, as well as the genocide and erasure of people who are Indigenous to this land. Only then might arise the Extinction of oppression and the End of Ill-being. -damaris miller ‘15 

Hindu Tradition

“All living beings,in their multiplicity of forms, are born of the same cosmic womb, and I am their seed-giving father...” (Bhagavad-Gita 14.4)

“The truly wise possess equal vision, seeing the same spiritual essence within all beings-- the learned high priest and the so-called outcaste, the cow, the elephant, and the dog, and so on..” (Bhagavad-Gita 5.18)

“Recognizing the one undivided spiritual essence of all living beings, though they may be divided into innumerable forms—that is true knowledge…”  (Bhagavad-Gita 18.20)

In these well-known passages from the Gita, Sri Krishna, the Divine, proclaims that all living beings are his beloved children and are therefore kin. The same spiritual spark is within us all.  He reminds us that  true wisdom is the ability to recognize and honor the inherent spiritual equality and dignity of all living beings

 

“Rejecting all prejudices of caste, creed, class, color, sex, or race, a true swami [realized devotee] follows the precepts of human brotherhood. His goal is absolute unity with Spirit.” (Paramahamsa Yogananda)

The insect of prejudice is eating away at our society. If we remain quiet, we will certainly invite inauspiciousness. Our social strength, heroism, and good fortune are gradually diminishing...those who have good hearts lament as they discuss this. Those who do not have good hearts live without anxiety and gradually degrade themselves.” (Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinode Thakur

Muslim Tradition

"O humanity! We made you from a man and a woman, and We made you races and tribes so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in God's sight are those who are most conscientious. Truly, God is all-knowing, fully aware." -Qur'an 49:13

This passage from Islam's holy book implies that we ought to be in joyful relationship with one another across our diversity and that it is the content of our character that matters most to God. 

"And among the signs of God is the constitution of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. Surely there are signs in that for those who know." - Qur'an 30:22

Diversity is cause to celebrate God's wonder and a sign of divine beauty. It should never, thus, be a reason for division or enmity.

“Verily, God Almighty created Adam from a handful which He took from the earth, so the children of Adam come in accordance with the earth. Some come with red skin, white skin, or black skin, and whatever is in between: thin, thick, dirty, and clean. -Tradition from the Prophet Muhammad

This hadith implies that human beings have a common origin and a unity from the very beginning of our creation.

Jewish Tradition

You shall not wrong a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. - Exodus 22:20-21

“Though we long for a simple storyline, to be a Jew is to embrace paradox: we are protected and vulnerable, we are confident and afraid, we are powerful and powerless, we are surrounded by allies, and, we are forever lonely. This feeling goes way back: 36 times in the Torah we are told to protect the stranger because WE were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Another paradox: Today, we are powerful enough to protect others, but the commandment is rooted in remembering our weakness." (Rabbi Dara Frimmer)

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And when I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when? (Pirke Avot 1:14)

There are moments when we must take care of ourselves.  And there are moments when we cannot only take care of ourselves, but must also look beyond our own individual and communal needs and take care of others who are vulnerable or in distress.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth, once said that the victim cannot adjudicate the crime.  It’s up to others in society to defend those who are vulnerable and oppressed and to seek justice.  And the time for this is now.  

It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it... (Pirkei Avot 2:16, Rabbi Tarfon) 

The work of activism and social change can be exhausting and overwhelming.  There is a tendency to look at the magnitude of the work and to say - I can’t get it done, so I won’t do anything. Along comes Rabbi Tarfon to say: Just because the work is overwhelming doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can to move the needle.  Maybe the contribution you make - along with all of the contributions that everyone else will make - will be enough to bring about real and sustainable change?!

Secular Humanist Tradition

The reason people think it’s important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black. - “Letter from a Region in My Mind” by James Baldwin, November 10, 1962

“From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.” - James Baldwin, “The Price of a Ticket,” 196

June 19: What is Juneteenth, and why is it important?

Juneteenth Statue

Juneteenth is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in which people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy received the news. 

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger informed enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas, that President Abraham Lincoln had emancipated them on January 1, 1863, more than two and a half years prior, putting into effect the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Juneteenth (the name combines June and 19) has been celebrated for the last 155 years by Blacks across the nation. There are Juneteenth gatherings and parades as Black communities celebrate their freedom with moments of education, empowerment, prayer, and pride. 

"The function of freedom is to free someone else." — Toni Morrison, Barnard College Speech, 1979. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James A. Baldwin

Books on Spirituality, Religion, and Race

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone 

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation by Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah Ph.D.

Rethinking Karma: The Dharma of Social Justice

The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness by Rhonda V. Magee and Jon Kabat-Zinn 

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II 

White Christian Supremacy by Dr. Khyati Y. Joshi 

Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering by Dr. Sherman Jackson

Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection by Dr. Sherman A. Jackson 

American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender within the Ummah (Religion, Race, and Ethnicity) by Karim, J. A.

A Hindu Theology of Liberation: Not-Two is Not One By Dr. Anantanand Rambachan

Office of Religious Life Programming

Below are past and future events hosted by the Office of Religious Life in partnership with other Princeton University departments speaking to racism and white supremacy from a faith-based perspective. 

From Lament to Prophesy: A Litany for Black Lives

Pain, rage, guilt, avoidance, sorrow, vulnerability, hope – this multi-religious virtual gathering space gives voice to our many feelings and leads us upward and outward with a call to live prophetically in the face of violence and hatred. As the world responds to the injustice of the murders of Black people and the protests around the world, we invite you to a brief time of prayerful reflection hosted by Office of Religious Life staff and members of the Princeton University faculty, staff, alumni and student body.

Man sitting in pews of University Chapel
Christianity and White Supremacy: Heresy and Hope Conference (March 29 – 30, 2019)

Christianity is one of the major supports of white supremacy and simultaneously its biggest challenge.  The malformation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into advocacy for white supremacy is heresy while the power of the Gospel is our greatest hope of vanquishing it. The goals of this conference were simple:  to strengthen the good work of those in attendance as well as those who cannot be present; to broaden our networks, partnerships and friendships; to hear new ideas and experiences; and to be further empowered to make change

The opening and closing sessions for this conference were recorded and are still very much relevant today. We encourage you to listen to them below.

Opening Panel: The Tradition is a Problem

Closing Panel: The Tradition is an Answer

Yusef Salaam and Eddie Glaude
An Evening With Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated “Central Park Five” (November 20, 2019)

In conversation with Professor Eddie Glaude, author of Democracy in Black, How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul and chair of African American Studies. Dr. Yusef Salaam is a member of the exonerated five (featured on the Netflix series ‘When They See Us’) a group of black and Latino teens falsely convicted of the brutal attack and rape of a young woman on April 19, 1989. In this talk, Dr. Yusef engaged in a profound conversation on how his Islamic faith provided him the strength to endure his time in prison and continue his work as an advocate for policy change and social justice.

East Meets West (April 19, 2010)

In 2010, two worlds beautifully collided as Dr. Cornel West (Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University and acclaimed author and speaker) and His Holiness Radhanath Swami (Bhakti Yoga master, director of the Radha-Gopinath Ashram, and acclaimed author and speaker) sat down together and share their thoughts on the Divine, the mysteries of love, and the role that spirituality plays in activism, compassion and justice. 

See below for the recorded videos of the event:
East Meets West Part 1
East Meets West Part 2

Reflections on the Problem of Black Suffering (March 29, 2010)

University of Michigan’s Professor Sherman Jackson and Princeton University’s Dr. Cornel West offer their perspectives on the historical problem and contemporary reality of suffering from both Christian and Muslim perspectives. Sherman A. Jackson is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Visiting Professor of Law and Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Michigan. Cornel Ronald West (born June 2, 1953) is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America.