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Genealogy in the Present

A search for origins is also always a search for meaning. In a time of political crisis such as ours, when origin narratives are especially tempting, fresh reminders of their limitations and violent potential are welcome.

Why are so many of us tempted by genealogical narratives? What do we gain by recounting origin stories about ourselves, our families, our home countries? What are the ethical variables involved in new methods of genealogy like DNA testing? This symposium reflects on the question of genealogy in its varied contemporary expressions. The contributions presented here ask how searches for origin inform social, political, and religious lives.

In “Genealogy’s Bad Blood,” Joseph Blankholm considers the genealogical method within a legacy of post-Marxist critique. Despite genealogy’s limitations, Blankholm argues that “ignoring our inheritance does not diminish its power,” and that genealogy still remains an important critical tool.

Eleanor Craig proposes that there are antecedents to revived interest and investment in DNA ancestry investigation, including the early modern concept of limpieza de sangre, or “purity of blood” in Spain and its colonies. In “Rethinking Genealogy, Rethinking Race,” Craig asks how newer empirical efforts like DNA testing, based on “(supposed) familial and individual racial composition” might function as a part of “a longer biopolitical effort to manage, reward, or punish certain actions and practices.”

In “The Violence of Care: on Genealogy and Social Reproduction,” Marika Rose thinks about how gendered logics of reproductive labor reinforce pedigree narratives both throughout the history of Christianity, and within the hierarchical structure of universities. Among its varied usages, Rose resolves that genealogy “might also consist of an exploration of the violence of reproduction, the way that a pedigree guarantees its survival into the future.”

Desmond Coleman’s “Genius, Genealogy, and Get Out: On Melanosis” considers the Sunken Place from Get Out as an aesthetic representation of blackness that has genealogical resonance with the Late Antique alchemical process by which hypostatic bodies are produced through sinking, and “melanosis, or blackening occurs.” For Coleman, the historical apriori of sunken-ness as it appears in its alchemical metaphors “allows us to see that the Sunken Place is not where blackness is lost, but where it is found.”

Our final contribution from Myrna Perez Sheldon, “Viral and Human Origins,” will conclude this symposium by reflecting on recent genetic technology in the wake of COVID-19. In it, Sheldon asks how we can reconcile the violent, lasting impact of malpractice and racist experimentation, while accepting that “we cannot think ourselves outside of genealogical logics.” Rather, she writes, “What we can do is hold these genealogies with a hermeneutic of suspicion and an ethic of community generosity.”

These contributions all thoughtfully engage genealogy at the intersections of recent academic conversations and contemporary issues in religion and politics. A search for origins is also always a search for meaning. In a time of political crisis such as ours, when origin narratives are especially tempting, fresh reminders of their limitations and violent potential are welcome. We hope you enjoy.

Symposium Essays

Genealogy’s Bad Blood

An epidemiology of critique investigates our work as genealogists by taking it too literally. It exaggerates, satirically, the materiality of genealogy’s metaphor and clarifies, sincerely, how it structures critique’s politics—its predisposition to quarantine, purge, and escape.

Rethinking Genealogy, Rethinking Race

To read genealogically in this mode is to read anachronistically, to theorize the present through temporally removed contexts while allowing for their difference.

The Violence of Care: on Genealogy and Social Reproduction

To become part of an institution as a member of a group which has historically been excluded from the university or from the discipline of theology is to be extremely conscious of the fragility of our survival within that institution, to feel the necessity of struggling against the forces of reproduction which conspire towards our ongoing exclusion.

Genius, Genealogy, and Get Out: On Melanosis

The Sunken Place’s genius consists in the fact that it-itself conjures the genealogy of the “statement” it makes.

Viral and Human Origins

If the scientific work of phylogenomics teaches us that evolutionary history is more complex, and less clear than we might have imagined, this has not had an effect on the commercialization of human racial ancestry.