October 12, 2021 – for immediate release
Bloomington, Indiana & Santa Barbara, California
The Center for Religion and the Human announces Terence Keel’s Divine Variations: How Christian Thought Became Racial Science (Stanford University Press, 2018) as winner of the second annual Iris Book Award.
Terence Keel is Associate Professor at the University of California Los Angeles with a split appointment in the Department of African American Studies, and the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Divine Variations also received the 2018 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.
Divine Variations exposes longstanding flaws in our collective beliefs about science as culturally and religiously neutral. Keel weaves together medical anthropology and the history of science to show how scientific theories about race and human evolution have remained tethered to religious assumptions. Jurors for the Iris Book Award praised Divine Variations as “a rigorous and readable intervention into the field of religion-and-science,” and noted that “the book’s thoroughly interdisciplinary method connects Christian theological anthropology with scientific ideas of race in ways that disrupt inherited assumptions about the so-called domains of religion and science and constructions of human identity.”
“When I wrote Divine Variations,” said Keel, “I wanted to explain why our science continues to frame human differences in terms of race despite the significant lack of evidence to support such thinking. It was clear to me that when you consider the religious and intellectual history of Europe and America the persistence of race was not simply an issue of science but a matter of belief and enduring value commitments. I hoped to write a book that could capture how these beliefs and commitments appeared across the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences.”
The Iris Book Award is an annual prize honoring outstanding work that gives new insights into the meaning and status of the human in relation to science, religion, and nature. It is sponsored by the Center for Religion & the Human at IU Bloomington and overseen by former IU faculty member Lisa Sideris, now Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.
“Keel’s work stands out for its impressive interdisciplinary range and its compelling narrative of the complex and often problematic debt scientific reasoning about race owes to religious ideology,” said Sideris.
The Iris Book Award is one of several initiatives supported by a $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for the “Being Human” project. Books considered for the award are nominated by academic and popular presses, and by scholars working in areas related to science, nature, religion, and technology.