Johann Blumenbach and the Birth of Racial Science
Chapter 1 examines the thought of the eighteenth-century ethnologist Johann F. Blumenbach, whose 1775 work On the Natural Variety of Mankind is often represented as precipitating the secular turn in the modern study of race. The chapter offers an alternative account of the intellectual ancestry alive in Blumenbach’s racial theories by recovering the Christian sources of his thinking. Political and philosophical anti-Judaism prevalent in late eighteenth-century Germany, the transformation of the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther into a pioneer of German national identity, and the anti-Jewish writings of Johann David Michaelis in the emergent field of biblical geography at Göttingen University were all crucial political, religious, and intellectual influences during the time Blumenbach developed his racial theories. Drawing on the notion that the epistemological origins of racial science are fundamentally mongrel, this chapter argues that Blumenbach’s racial theories were not an expression of pure, untainted, secular rationality.
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