Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

American Prophecy

Race and Redemption in American Political Culture

2008
Author:

George Shulman

American Prophecy

The political meaning of prophetic language in America

Prophecy is the fundamental idiom of American politics—a biblical rhetoric about redeeming the crimes, suffering, and promise of a special people. Yet political theorists rarely analyze American prophecy and its great practitioners—from Frederick Douglass and Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King and Toni Morrison. This paradox is at the heart of American Prophecy, a work in which George Shulman critiques the political and racial meaning of American prophetic rhetoric.

This is the grand book on the American prophetic tradition of thought and action we've been waiting for! Shulman's subtle theoretical analyses, sophisticated historical narratives, and progressive political project brings new life to a set of issues and figures—such as race, empire, and democracy in the texts of Thoreau, King, Baldwin, and Morrison—that either we honestly face or we sadly succumb to, to our destruction.

Cornel West

Prophecy is the fundamental idiom of American politics—a biblical rhetoric about redeeming the crimes, suffering, and promise of a special people. Yet American prophecy and its great practitioners—from Frederick Douglass and Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison—are rarely addressed, let alone analyzed, by political theorists. This paradox is at the heart of American Prophecy, a work in which George Shulman unpacks and critiques the political meaning of American prophetic rhetoric.

In the face of religious fundamentalisms that associate prophecy and redemption with dogmatism and domination, American Prophecy finds connections between prophetic language and democratic politics, particularly racial politics. Exploring how American critics of white supremacy have repeatedly reworked biblical prophecy, Shulman demonstrates how these writers and thinkers have transformed prophecy into a political language and given redemption a political meaning.

To examine how antiracism is linked to prophecy as a vernacular idiom is to rethink political theology, recast democratic theory, and reassess the bearing of religion on American political culture. Still, prophetic language is not always liberatory, and American Prophecy maintains a critical dispassion about a rhetoric that is both prevalent and problematic.

Awards

American Political Science Association – Foundations of Political Theory – 2009 David Easton Award

American Prophecy

George Shulman is associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University and the author of Radicalism and Reverence: The Political Thought of Gerrard Winstanley.

American Prophecy

This is the grand book on the American prophetic tradition of thought and action we've been waiting for! Shulman's subtle theoretical analyses, sophisticated historical narratives, and progressive political project brings new life to a set of issues and figures—such as race, empire, and democracy in the texts of Thoreau, King, Baldwin, and Morrison—that either we honestly face or we sadly succumb to, to our destruction.

Cornel West

At once a contribution to political theology, a critique of American exceptionalism, and a plea for racial justice, George Shulman’s American Prophecy is a tour de force. Argued in detail and with care, it gives way at the last instant to passion—a responsible, scholarly passion that will inspire all those interested in racial politics for years to come.

Bonnie Honig, author of Democracy and the Foreigner

This is a challenging, exceptional work that is an excellent contribution to American political thought and African American studies.

Choice

A brilliant book that is at once both classic and timely. Shulman’s measured tone, careful arguments, and provocative readings of key figures in the history of American thought, along with his compelling case for the inclusion of Toni Morrison within that canon, ultimately serve to makes American Prophecy an example of the thing it studies. A remarkable work both of, and about, political thought and action.

Theory & Event

A skillful and scholarly account of what the author calls ‘Jeremiah’s legacy’ across two centuries of American culture.

Journal of American Studies

It is wonderful to see textual readings done with this kind of passion.

Perspectives on Politics

With zealous attention to detail, this book contributes to a graduate-level, interdisciplinary understanding of biblical narratives in relationship to poetry, literature, and political theory.

Religious Studies Review