Holy Races: Race in the Formation of Mormonism and the Nation of Islam

Stuart, Joseph, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Flake, Kathleen, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hedstrom, Matthew, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This thesis seeks to demonstrate that Mormonism and the Nation of Islam both incorporated contemporary definitions of race into their theology and used such definitions to police the boundaries of their religious identity. These boundaries became the de facto gate through which its members were required to pass to gain access to each respective movement’s definition of salvation. Both religions also provide insight into the contexts and processes by which American religions both included and excluded racial groups within their religious frameworks. Early Mormons gave all their worldly possessions to gather and evangelized to bring others to their fellowship, but ultimately excluded others based on their non-Israelite identity. The Nation of Islam sought to unite the black population into a religious body, but later separated the majority of American blacks from its definition of what constituted blackness. Mormonism’s racial theology excluded Africans from the eternal Nucleus of Heaven until after Jesus’ Second Coming until a revelation reversed Brigham Young’s pronouncements in 1978. The Nation of Islam addressed a monolithic black population that Muhammad eventually split into two smaller populations of the saved and damned. Both religions incorporated prevailing race definitions to their preferred race to justify endowments of privilege and favor by God or Allah.
This thesis further demonstrates that religion participates in the construction of race in the United States. While I primarily examine Mormonism and the Nation of Islam, the racial definitions each religion created during its first decades could similarly be examined across a wide swath of American religions. These two groups, as religious movements indigenous to American soil, offer special insight to the process by which religion incorporates race into its beliefs and practices, and those they include and exclude in their communities. Both groups engage with American culture and ultimately came to exclude certain groups they once welcomed into their respective folds. This study seeks to understand how religious groups use race to maintain and create religious boundaries through racializing the measures of religiosity. The language is then used to define who is worthy of God’s or Allah’s favor and who is not worthy of His blessings. Above all, this thesis shows the means by which race both united and divided religious groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By placing racial formation and religious innovation in conversation with one another, I seek to illuminate the process by which religions use their definitions of race to set themselves apart from, or align themselves with, American culture. By understanding how race can be used to bring groups together and maintain distinction from their culture, readers will be able to understand how race and religion’s intersection in American history has both united and divided its citizens.

MA (Master of Arts)
Nation of Islam, LDS, Religious Identity, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Mormonism, W.D. Fard, religion, Whiteness, Joseph Smith, American Religious History, race, Mormon Temple, Blackness, Brigham Young
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: