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Reversing the Gaze: Constructing European Race Discourse as Modern Witchcraft Practice

James W. Perkinson
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Vol. 72, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 603-629
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40005909
Page Count: 27
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Reversing the Gaze: Constructing European Race Discourse as Modern Witchcraft Practice
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Abstract

In keeping with the challenge of (African American) historian of religions Charles Long to develop a mode of postcolonial encounter that is a process of mutual hermeneusis, I am proposing in this article to think "race" in terms of "indigenous ritual." At the very least it is an effort to relativize the western scientific paradigm and the universalizing humanities discourses that have nestled close to that paradigm. It is not an attempt to repudiate such an episteme but, rather--to borrow a jazz term--to "swing" it, to put it in antiphonal and improvisational circulation. More specifically, this article will trace a thought experiment, probing the historical emergence of white supremacist practice as a kind of modernist embodiment of "witchcraft discourse," which functions--in the institutional grammar it has left on deposit in contemporary social practice and the "intention to consume" (the substance of others) that it "rationalizes"--very much like the "primitive superstitions" it seeks to name and repudiate in positing its own rationalizing superiority. In such an enterprise, witchcraft, I am arguing, can be "good to think with" as a mode of communicative action, signifying with a kind of "boomerang effect" in the intercultural space of rupture between the West and the rest.

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