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Heathen

By: Kathryn Gin Lum
Narrated by: Rebecca Lam
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Publisher's Summary

If an eighteenth-century parson told you that the difference between "civilization and heathenism is sky-high and star-far," the words would hardly come as a shock. But that statement was written by an American missionary in 1971. In a sweeping historical narrative, Kathryn Gin Lum shows how the idea of the heathen has been maintained from the colonial era to the present in religious and secular discourses—discourses, specifically, of race.

Americans long viewed the world as a realm of suffering heathens whose lands and lives needed their intervention to flourish. The term "heathen" fell out of common use by the early 1900s, leading some to imagine that racial categories had replaced religious differences. But the ideas underlying the figure of the heathen did not disappear. Americans still treat large swaths of the world as "other" due to their assumed need for conversion to American ways. Gin Lum looks to figures like Chinese American activist Wong Chin Foo and Ihanktonwan Dakota writer Zitkála-Šá, who proudly claimed the label of "heathen" for themselves.

Heathen thus reveals a key source of American exceptionalism and a prism through which Americans have defined themselves as a progressive and humanitarian nation even as supposed heathens have drawn on the same to counter this national myth.

©2022 The President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2022 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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