Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World


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Religion was fundamental to the development of both slavery and race in the Protestant Atlantic world. For slaveholders, Christianity was a sign of freedom, and most believed that slaves should not be eligible for conversion. Meanwhile, Protestant missionaries arrived in the plantation colonies in the 1670s and were appalled that most slave owners rejected the prospect of slave conversion. Over time, missionaries increasingly used the language of race to support their arguments for slave conversion. Enslaved Christians, meanwhile, developed an alternate vision of Protestantism that linked religious conversion to literacy and freedom. This lecture discusses the differing motivations of slave owners, missionaries, and enslaved populations since the 17th century in the Protestant Atlantic. Speaker: Katharine Gerbner is a McKnight Land-Grant Professor and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. Her research explores the religious dimensions of race, authority, and freedom in early America and the Atlantic world. Learn more about Harvard Divinity School and its mission to illuminate, engage, and serve at

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