Date of Award


First Advisor

Asma Abbas

Second Advisor

Wesley Brown


In relation to emancipation and the ongoing struggles for human freedom, this thesis explores the likewise ongoing question of where God becomes a means of liberation and where God becomes a means to control others. For that purpose, it turns to the stories told by a pair of thinkers confronting and contesting putatively emancipatory moments of a similarly disingenuous character: Karl Marx in 1844 and Saidiya Hartman in 1997, among others. Common to these thinkers is the state’s claim to the mantle of freedom, and its concomitant relationship to race, religion and the feminine, as means to its own continuity. What remains in excess of that claim is the subject of this thesis. I argue for a renewed attention to the richness and political salience of religious history and practice, including the religious history which persists despite the pretensions of a largely ‘secular’ contemporaneity to have decisively banished it as the leaving of a more frightful age. Such is the concern of the first chapter. I also seek to examine religion in relation to insurgency and fugitive politics. The second chapter focuses upon Karl Marx, investigating the Jewish Question in relationship to the meaning of the French, American, and Haitian revolutions, the states they produce and especially the role of Christianity therein. The third and fourth chapters, focusing upon Saidiya Hartman, investigate the religious politics of abolitionism and of the transformation by which the American state, very much occasioned by white supremacy and the monopoly on legitimate anti-Black violence, becomes able to ‘emancipate’ the enslaved. A shorter final letter takes the previous two chapters as prolegomena to an exploration of the moral politics of emancipation, and from thence to hints at the religious contours of contemporary insurgencies, American and internationalist.

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