Dwight Hopkins and Theologizing toward Black Existentialism

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In Chapters 2 and 3 of Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (2005), Dwight N. Hopkins individually investigates culture and self as respectively being comprised of, on one hand, human labor,[1] the aesthetic,[2] and the spiritual,[3] and on the other hand, community,[4] communalism,[5] and gender critiques.[6] But, it is in Chapter 4 that examines race in terms of nature and nurture, where the reader discovers a section larger than the sections devoted to culture and self. This section, which explores the third leg of Hopkins’s idea of the theological anthropology within culture, self, and race, undoubtedly, represents the bulk of Hopkins’s theological argument as it is brought to bear in his evocation of Black theology in the Introduction. More importantly, however, what seems to be at the core of Hopkins’s argument when considering his assertion that “to be black in the United States of America is to realize that one’s blackness signifies being created in God’s image of high self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence”[7] is an approach that subjugates black theology into an exploration of philosophical questions of existence: Black existentialism.

Theologically speaking, then, Black existentialism embodies Hopkins’s application of Black Theology because his definition of Black Theology is “geared to[wards] serving the poor and the brokenhearted.”[8] This, by extension, existentially projects a specific notion of being that is, in turn, connected to blackness, as a physical and spiritual state that “denotes both a sacred natural creation and complex social constructions.”[9] Blackness represents a concept of existence. To apply Hopkins’s theological anthropology as evidenced in ideas about self, culture, and race to Black existence means to explain the reality of existence in terms of a Black-specific reality –this Black-specific reality is based, as Hopkins supposes, on direct and indirect human experiences as much as it is on the rational interpretation of the divine revelations in human collective and individual experiences and in nature[10] but, also, on cultural and racial theological extrapolations of selfhood.

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[1] The emergence of culture from human energy, creativity, and struggle exerted by the human person in relation to nature and in relation to various human beings occupying definite societal positions. Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 61.

[2] The aesthetic or beauty in culture coexists with and accompanies moral attributes, and thus the community offers a norm to ferret out beautiful and non-beautiful character in the human being or the individual self. Ibid., 67.

[3] Discussions about spirit refer to the creativity that unfolds in culture, a creativity that animates both human labor and the aesthetic. Ibid., 71-72.

[4] This is based on the belief that the human is not defined by frozen notions of memory, will, soul, or rationality but, rather, the self becomes a self through the introduction into the selves. Ibid., 82.

[5] The idea of communal defines the historical trajectory and contemporary substance and helps guarantee the conditions for the possibility of the self’s and selves’ perpetual flourishing. Ibid., 85.

[6] Gender hierarchy, as Hopkins asserts, subverts the affirmation of community, common values, and common good in as much as it denotes the concept of equality, which rewards the overall community when the male gender and the female gender are allowed to play in their unique individuality. Ibid., 114.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 15.

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