Date of Award:

2015

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)

Department:

History

Advisor/Chair:

Norman Jones

Abstract

In the first three centuries CE, the sacrament of baptism proved to be a universal tool which united people beyond age, race, or ethnicity as we understand it today. To put it simply, the theological meaning of baptism was reinforced by the sacrament of infant baptism. That is to say that the Christian faith was for all, irrespective of one’s race, age, or social-status. This openness to Christianity changed in the early modern period. In the seventeenth century the Baptists rejected infant baptism, for a more rational faith based on Enlightenment and Romantic assumptions. What the Baptists did not realize was just how embedded the social, political, economic, and other forms of human meaning and understanding were rooted in the sacrament of infant baptism. This thesis is an intellectual and social history on how Baptists contributed to the idea of race in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by their rejection of infant baptism. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Southern Baptists created a theology that supported racial superiority in North America. Once radical Protestant groups such as the Baptists rejected the inclusive baptismal theology of Irenaeus Lyon and Origen of Alexandria by leaving the Church of England, the incarnational and communal elements that once united Christianity would lead to racial divisions within Christian denominations in the modern period. Consequently, by rejecting the classical understanding of baptism-salvation, many Baptists looked elsewhere than baptism or religion for their identity and now looked to novel notions of species and race. These innovative explanations of identity outside of baptism led to racial superiority within North American Christendom in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. For the purpose of this study, I shall look at second century CE theologians Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202 CE) and Origen of Alexandria (184-254 CE) and compare their thoughts to the theological interpretation of John Smyth of Nottinghamshire (1570-1612 CE), and how his theological approach indirectly contributed to the idea of racial superiority (i.e. skin color) within early North American Christendom.

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