The Holy Icon and Racial Myths
Imprint: Baylor University Press
234 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 2 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus.
- Published: August 2021
Archetypes of race loom large within the Western imagination. The Black population, in particular, has often been pictured as inherently disordered, and their presence thought to have a disordering effect—indeed, their presence has been seen as a threat to civilized society. It is this perceived threat of Blackness that has fueled America's long history of discrimination and oppression.
At the heart of this racialized way of seeing is a significant theological assertion: that one's internal state can be discerned through the external attributes of the body. In the Byzantine era, the holy icon was thought to reflect the proper order of God; those who rejected the icon rejected God's order. The supposedly deficient bodies of those who rejected the holy order of God functioned as a warning sign. Using the framework of icon theology, Disordered explores the relationship between non-white, as well as non-masculine, bodies and civilized society at key moments in the development of modernity. Jessica Wai-Fong Wong demonstrates how the archetype of (male) whiteness has come to define proper social order. The veneration of the white man as holy ideal wields significant power over the formation of subjects and the shaping of society. In this case, worship of whiteness in general, and white masculinity in particular, functions as the sacred ground upon which the oppressive structures of Western society are built.
The iconic reading of race offered here not only creates an opportunity for analysis but also opens up a space for constructive christological intervention that confronts the troubled practices at the heart of racialized sight. Jesus invites all people into a different way of seeing, one that shatters the distorting and destructive assumptions embedded within the dominant racial logic. By learning to see Jesus, the true icon of God, we learn to see rightly. And, when we see rightly, the order defining our identity and relationality is redeemed.
1 Troubled Sight: Anatomy of the Modern Racial Optic
2 Sacred Sight: Anatomy of the Icon
3 Iconic Saint, Anti-Iconic Jew
4 Colonialism and the Making of New Christendom
5 Making Americans: Reading, Reforming, and Redeeming the Immigrant Body
6 Jesus: Icon of God
Informed by the latest in race theory, yet with prose that is refreshingly accessible, Wong invites Christians to confront the depths of racism. This book takes images seriously as theological cornerstones and also as sites where theology goes wrong, where racism pulls theology toward heresy. Naming and challenging the worship of whiteness, Wong offers an important contribution to the theology of race that speaks to anti-Blackness, anti-Asian racism, and anti-indigenous racism today.~Vincent Lloyd, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and Director of the Africana Studies Program, Villanova University
In Disordered: The Holy Icon and the Racial Myths, Jessica Wong traces the trajectory of the racial formation of the Whitened iconic figure of Jesus in relation to colonialism’s Other as dark and threatening. Her interrogation of these constructed racial myths, in relation to our understanding of Christian redemption and the figure of Jesus as the Holy One, challenges us to re-examine and re-imagine what interpretations of redemption have been unattended or erased. In doing so, we may well see ourselves on the way to becoming with each other in ways that will form the world into an imagined, hopeful, inclusive and relational redemption. For Christians interested in racial formations, redemption, and the problematic dialectic of the self over and against the racialized other, this is a must-read.~Wonhee Anne Joh, Professor of Theology and Culture, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
In recent years, a number of scholars have taken up the task of analyzing the parallels between racial and religious logics. Some help us to see that their proximity to one another is because they are, in fact, derived from one another, and not separate disconnected phenomena. In Disordered: The Holy Icon and Racial Myths, Jessica Wai-Fong Wong makes that case. Wong does a masterful job of examining this Western racial-religious connection by looking at it through the lenses of icon theology. In so doing, Wong helps us to see how its underpinning of aesthetics function as a mechanism to calibrate embodied encounters by the registers of whiteness, labeling bodies as holy and unholy, and recognizing order and disorder as racial markers, while simultaneously prescribing our moral obligations by the same registers. Wong argues that ultimately, we are called to live into a different order, into God’s Oikonomia. This book is masterfully written, and very timely.~Reggie L. Williams, Professor of Christian Ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary
Jessica Wai-Fong Wong’s Disordered is an astute, trenchant, and timely analysis of the consequences of elevating whiteness to the level of an icon. By treating cis-gendered white masculinity as the earthly manifestation of divine order, those groups and subject positions that wander from the norm are seen as disordered, deficient, and in need of salvation/civilization. Wong’s groundbreaking text offers an honest examination of how Christian (iconic) theology provides the underpinnings for modern racial myths and imaginaries, but this book also reads theology against itself to find resources for alternative modes of vision, relation, and participation. For those interested in race, coloniality, and theology, this is a must-read.~Joseph Winters, Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African & African American Studies, Duke University