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Religionists versus Scientists: Why We Need to Build Cultures of Trust


[1] In Martin E. Marty’s Building Cultures of Trust, we, the readership, are initially introduced to a conversation between Marty, the historian, and several conversationalists who represent general exchanges that Marty has had with people about the focus of his book—building cultures of trust. These conversationalists inquire why Marty decides to write about trust. Although Marty does not give us a specific definition of trust, initially, he provides us with various scenarios in which people must instill their trust in other persons, institutions, reputations, or task-completions in order to render an outcome within each person’s specific interest. To this extent, Marty informs us that trust centers on the behavior of an individual with whom one must entrust others. It is because several people are a part of a collectivity of trusting one another that Marty sees trust as being communal (54). But clearly, Marty approaches the task of discussing trust from the lens that distrust prevails in much of our society. Therefore, implicitly, his ultimate goal in the text is to determine the means through which individuals can become more trusting, and even more purposively, can become change agents for trust.

Shayla Nunnally[2] As Marty notes, “First, any talk of improving trust must begin with the individual, her character, her resolve, her potential for change” (3). Thus, the mechanism for instilling greater trust and moving away from distrust is the emphasis on change, which starts with the motivation of individual actors. But, this prompts several inquiries: Who are these individuals? Are they special to trust? Are they special for overcoming distrust? What is necessary for their motivation towards change? And, why is their specific change necessary for “building cultures of trust”?

[3] In what could be a more general response to all these inquiries, Marty asserts about his book enterprise, “It relates the individual to social forms, called ‘cultures’ and ‘subcultures,’ that can be open to change and can be changed” (3). These interconnections among the individual, culture, and change, also more broadly relate to the means by which individuals communicate their thoughts and beliefs. Implicitly, then, Marty does not require spectacular individuals to build cultures of trust. Rather, his vision of building cultures of trust rests in addressing the individuals involved in debates about religion and science, hence, religionists and scientists. Communication and discourse, thus, become integral in Marty’s consideration about the interrelations of people in general (and in particular, religionists and scientists) and their moral obligations to trust, otherwise noted as their “deontological ethics.”

[4] In particular, Marty questions the role of deontological ethics in bonding people in trusting relations. Marty defines deontological ethics as “…the will, conscience, and moral factors in the agents themselves” (94). For Marty, trust, itself, does not as much seem to be the ultimate moral obligation as it seems to be most obligatory for the larger goal of a more peaceable society. It seems, then, that trust is an ethical commitment for communal advancement, especially between individuals who are often compartmentalized into groups with specific worldviews and engaged in characteristically conflictual discourses. Two “cultures” in which Marty focuses our attention, as previously noted, include religion and science. In Marty’s conception, thus, culture does not have to form from a singular construction but rather through the cultural contributions of several groups at once, hence, cultures, as a plural formation. Cultures do not have to amalgamate into one larger culture but rather can retain their respective properties, hence, the separate cultures (even knowledges) of religions and sciences.1

[5] According to Marty, people must build cultures (the plural form of culture) of trust. In fact, in Marty’s treatment, religion and science are cultures themselves (13). Therefore, trust must be instilled across the cultures of both science and religion. Already in theology, one can trust in God and one can trust in other humans. In science, the quest for greater trust is based upon trust in data revealing information about inquiries in which scientists investigate, interpret, and report results that ultimately become recognized and generally accepted as a part of a larger “truth,” although theoretical and methodological contestation abounds in an attempt to acquire greater truths to advance knowledge. These distinct truths, thus, originate from different knowledge bases, and the orientations of religionists and scientists similarly function in disparate cultures.

[6] “Cultures of trust involve people who are ready for risks boldly taken” (53). These risks venture to acknowledge the tenets of other cultures and respect their contributions to broader discourses. But with respect to distrust, aside from trust in cultures or vice versa building cultures of trust, Marty acknowledges that people, themselves, are bad risks (56), and even in his assessment of the hermeneutics of trust, he harkens to the natural being of humans in promulgating trust—whether by their nature, they are trusting of others or themselves, worthy of being trusted.

[7] Although Marty does not provide a specific definition of trust, we can glean that trust is an achievable aspiration and that it serves a greater purpose: it can build respectful mutuality between religion and science, two often conflictual concepts, or as Marty also conceptualizes them—modes of thinking—that meet within the context of discourse. As “modes” of thinking, religions and sciences conceive the world in a way specific to their perspectives.

[8] Marty wants us to consider the concept of trust in order for individuals to engage in discourses and overcome the related conflictual conversations across two different theoretical spaces: religions and sciences. It is in public where paths cross among people (possibly as experts or mere conceptual devotees) who are committed to these respective spaces’ tenets. Often we find within discourse that these two spaces theorize differently the origins and functioning of the world and human behavior. In addition, these religious and scientific tenets have historically and contemporarily been at odds, especially with respect to the debate over creationism, also known as intelligent design (nature and humans created and possibly transformed at the behest of a deity) and evolution (nature and humans developing and adapting to nature at the behest of time and perhaps responses to environmental change). For Marty, the norms, beliefs, ideas, ideologies, and faith in sciences or religions contribute to separate cultures for each of these perspectives and for the people who subscribe to their tenets.

[9] In Marty’s view, misunderstanding is at the core of these two cultures (religions and sciences) not engaging one another in positively productive ways. Scientists and religionists often misunderstand one another and become mistrustful and suspicious of one another. Their misunderstandings, as Marty conceives them, rest in their respective subscribers making “categorical mistakes,” wherein they engage discourses with one another, assume the risk of engaging in a historically contentious discourse, and “mistakenly” assume that they know enough about one another’s tenets to be able to critique one another and do so “factually.” These mistakes fuel suspicion because neither scientists nor religionists know enough about one another’s cultures to become experts in both at the same time. Therefore, as Marty contends, religionists and scientists must accept this fact and move towards the greater goal of trust to venerate respective thinkers for the contributions that they make to the larger, public of discourses. In this sense, as I see it, the public serves three purposes for occupying space: as a medium for discourses, as a medium for people to acquire information for knowledge, and as a medium for embracing norms and beliefs for which they subscribe to culture(s) as culturalists, themselves.

[10] Trust breaks down when either religionists or scientists commit what Marty and philosophers refer to as ignoratio elenchi, or “an argument whose premises can not be related in any direct way to what is at issue” (102). Simply put, while the cultures may report to speak to one another, in effect, they are speaking past one another, as their respective knowledges do not resonate across cultural lines. Thus, as Marty claims, “Ignoratio elenchi violates what would be valid in one sphere by misapplying it in another” (102). Furthermore, by evoking the philosophy of British philosopher Michael Oakeshott (1933) and a scholar of Oakeshott’s work, Steven Anthony Gerencser (2000), Marty warns about hyper-violation of categorical mistakes, what is referred to as superbia, wherein the authority of one voice claims to have authority over interpretation, importance, and meaning about another’s voice in an arrogant and superior way. Between ignoratio elenchi and superbia, superbia is the ultimate categorical mistake. Nevertheless, both are categorical mistakes that inhibit communication and trusting bonds that are essential for building “cultures of trust.”

[11] As Marty states, “An open flow of communication, whether critical or affirmative, is vital to the development of trust as part of the goal of building cultures in a complex society” (5). However, what becomes more disparate about religionists and scientists speaking with one another is the fact that the two have their respective languages to communicate to their subscribers, and these languages indicate separate, self-segregated universes of discourse in which their subscribers communicate (101). Subscribers to each culture often distrust one another. Similar to the aforementioned discussion about separate cultures breeding suspicion, here, religionists and scientists become suspicious and distrusting of one another and only trust in their respective cultures.

[12] Despite the specializations that religionists and scientists have in their respective discursive universes, Marty warns us against the two committing solipsism, as he sees compartmentalization as adverse to sincere conversation and “cultures of trust.” Rather, “Trust grows when the ‘variety of distinct languages of understanding’ is recognized as such and is approached through the invitation from the others to converse” (120). Ultimately, it is conversation that is integral for initiating trust-building (127). But, as I see it, we are still left wondering how these two cultures—religions and sciences—can initiate these conversations, on what topics they would discuss, and on what grounds they would commit to rules that will prevent categorical mistakes. In other words, can these conversations occur without arbiters, or can the contributors sanction themselves?

[13] Attaining a meliorative understanding is the ultimate goal that Marty suggests toward achieving trust. On these terms, as Marty notes, “meliorative” approaches advocate understandings and strategies for improving trust, whereas “meliorist” approaches advocate ideological commitment for improved trust. To Marty, meliorist approaches are unrealistic; nonetheless, he acknowledges their possibilities with the combined belief that meliorist approaches tend to be utopian and less likely attainable.

[14] In keeping with a meliorative approach, Marty warns us about behaviors that reduce trust. Evoking the theory of attitudes and practices that affect relations between science and religion, as offered by Sjoerd L. Bonting in Creation and Double Chaos: Science and Theology in Discussion, Marty tells us about three “attitudes” and practices that can diminish trust in conversation—enmity, neglect, and dialogue. First, enmity involves an attitude that disrespects and alienates others in conversation. Second, neglect is the practice that precludes and omits others from conversation. Third, during dialogue, conversation may devolve into an argument or others’ voices may be silenced in ways that forego further conversation.

[15] Because of the potential for disrespect, disruption, and ultimately, distrust stemming from these attitudes and practices, terms or rules must be set to structure conversation in a qualitatively respectful and meaningful way. Thus, Marty, finally, points religionists and scientists toward “cultures of trust” by suggesting civil discourse, respect for others at the personal level, commitment to non-conflictual dialogue, and most importantly, retention of open channels for conversation.

[16] Marty states, “If mistrust closes off communication before it starts, and if distrust aborts understanding before the words are spoken, it is impossible to pursue items further down the agenda” (183). Nonetheless, it seems that, while Marty encourages people towards “meliorative” understanding of cultures over “meliorist” understanding, we are left wondering how ideological commitment to cultures of trust (as in the meliorist approach), not just strategies for improving trust, becomes a complement to building cultures of trust. In other words, it appears that ground rules must be set and that trustors (those who do the act of trusting) must commit to fulfilling these ground rules. To this end, building cultures of trust appears to take the form of a religionists’ and scientists’ game of which the players must commit to the rules of the game.

[17] Marty even inquires, “So, is trust just a game of chance with its own set of rules?” (92). Evidently, he thinks so. He implicitly offers norms and rules about trust that become working assumptions about how to approach this uncertain game. For one, he acknowledges that trust is not 100 percent certain. Second, trust also often is not habitual for people, but normatively, it should be aspirational for people to become trustworthy. Third, people need to have confidence in the concept of trust in order for it to be accessible to individuals, their collectivity, and larger society. In order for this to happen I feel that trust, itself, also must be public for acknowledgment, belief, consumption, and output on behalf of its partakers. This is how trust becomes a signaling game for its players to engage. Players send signals about their trustworthiness and the quality of the game that they are willing to play (Dixit and Skeath 1999). In my opinion, this game would evolve under terms that establish commitment to certain standards by its players.

Building Cultures of Trust: The Nature of the Game and the Academy, Par Excellence

[18] Interestingly, as I would agree, Marty notes that trust also is an ethical commitment, and he offers this commitment, despite his preference for meliorative understandings of cultures. This is to suggest, in hand, that there is an attitude or belief by which people must subscribe in order to move towards improved trust. In some ways, the “commitment” takes us back to the significance of ideology in the meliorist approach for improving trust because there is a communal standard for which the cultures must agree. Uslaner (2002) reminds us that trusting other people relies upon the basic assumption that other people share our fundamental values, and part of this assumption builds upon our understanding of human nature and whether people are inclined to be trustworthy and perceived as such by others. People can trust, but they are more likely to trust in people who are trustworthy (Hardin 2002). Reputations of trustworthiness help people sort through the players who are committed to the chosen trust game. In a similar fashion, Marty refers to these reputations as “trust patterns.”

[19] To provide an overview of trust patterns in our society, Marty analyzes trust patterns among people, institutions, and provinces for information. Whereas people become change agents for trust, political institutions become important as arbiters in establishing rules, norms, sanctions, and protections of certain processes, rights, and contracts that promote and, hopefully, sustain trust and trust-building. Our access to information and how we process data helps us in our decision-making and future relations with others in different contexts. Information assists us with communication, but even more importantly, it helps us converse and keep open lines of communication. In short order, information also helps us assess who the game players are and how they will play the game.

[20] The content of the game (here, the topic of the discourse), however, is left open for analysis and understanding. Content matter is important because, despite garnering trust to play the game and its players in what Marty normatively aspires to be a civil discourse, controversial topics still can render contentious discourse that leaves its conversationalists (here, religionists and scientists) in bitter dismay by the quality of the conversation. To this extent, we may question whether game players can remain committed to the trust patterns that Marty promotes. This is why, in discourse, trust (and the patterns and behaviors associated with it) is not a single-shot game. Rather, trust is iterative so long as the conversation continues.

[21] In my view, considering the contributions of people, institutions as arbiters, and information as abundant and accessible, it seems that one way we see discourses open for communication between religionists and scientists is in the context of Academia. It includes reviewers, researchers, readers, journals, departments, programs, colleges, and universities that commit to a higher “truth(s)” through ongoing discourses in several disciplines (hence, “cultures”) in multiple contexts, intersectionally, and interdisciplinarily. Epistemologically, religionists and scientists still may find themselves siphoned into research and discursive silos that obfuscate and obstruct cross-conversations, but it is the norms of scholars, the nuances of the questions and methods they inquire and implement, and the openness to these changes that move ideas beyond stalemate and encourage theoretical pluralism. Academia, hence, comprises several structures that promote Marty’s goal for cross-cultural trust.

[22] In this sense, Academia instills ethical standards for respecting scholarship among the many individual scholars who devote their careers. These standards propel scholarship towards new topics and discourses. These standards invite “building and continuing cultures of trust” that progress ideas. In my view, Marty would even say that trust, itself, is progressive. For religionists and scientists, a larger question that is consistent with Marty’s is one that challenges us to consider, “How can we extend these related academic standards beyond our ’ivory tower,’ ethical commitments to knowledge, making them more easily accessible to the broader public for the benefit of society?” While our publications have a readership among scholars, do we have an obligation to make our publications, discourses, and conversations more easily accessible to the broader public and everyday people’s conversations about topics related to what we study, such as topics discussed among religionists and scientists? Perhaps the academy is an exemplar for Marty’s vision, but as I will discuss later, even the academy and other institutions can constrain discourses.

[23] In sum, Marty’s outlook on trust is the following: “In our envisioning and observing of cultures of trust, we may observe or reason that the more frequently and firmly one has experienced commitments of trust lived up to, the more the capacity to trust grows and the more frequently and profound is the betrayal a person has experienced, the less of a foundation remains on which to build a platform for increasing trust” (92). There is no standard level of trust to which our society must strive, but at the least, there is a norm of trust in which Marty wants to be a part of our foundation: openness and acceptance of cultures of trust.

Cross-Discourses in Religion and Science: The Interjection of Race and the Construction of Difference

[24] To the benefit of larger society, perhaps religionists and scientists can move toward building cultures of trust by transitioning their conversations beyond themselves (not to say that they have not already done this) and into the broader public of intellectuals and the masses, alike. While building more public discourses between these two cultures appears to be a panacea for their conflictual differences, in some ways, what is treated as “more public” and accessible may be more akin to “publicity” for marketing ideas. By critiquing the conflicts of religionists and scientists, in no way do I want to commit my own solipsism by being a political scientist, who through my own training in the political science discipline, I have limited knowledge of religionists’ and scientists’ knowledge outside my own discipline, nor do I want to go against the grain of Marty’s proposition about “building cultures of trust.” However, I think it is important for us to try to identify debates among cultures in order for them to engage more conversations, and in this case, engage the contexts in which we have seen operative conversations between religionists and scientists for which there have been agreements and more settled conflicts.

[25] To a certain extent, this is where I feel that scientists and religionists have not exclusively spoken past one another, but rather, have been actively engaged in very public discourses—the discourses surrounding explanations for human difference and the construction of race. More specifically, via science and religion we see intimate epistemological discourses that draw upon knowledges relative to both cultures to prove, support, and advocate on behalf of race, inequality, and ultimately, injustices. Thus, we see the political consequences of intimate discourses between religions and sciences that enforce institutions that violate Marty’s appreciation for a political institution or arbiter that instills trust between these two cultures. Notably, trust can exist between conversationalists (religionists and scientists) who are in agreement with one another about this issue, but trust also can dissolve among conversationalists who disagree with the others or who, themselves, are the subjects of the debate. In this case, distrust develops from multiple fault lines, and (dis)trust can evolve from an institution or arbiter that reinforces practices, not necessarily exclusive to the context of relations between religions and sciences but rather inclusive of topics that wed ideas and theories from both cultures based upon “otherizing” people and advocating for racial categorization.

[26] Elsewhere, in my own work (Nunnally 2012), I have critiqued trust studies in political science about their limited inquiries and investigations into race and trust, especially with respect to the social and political experiences of blacks in the United States. However, the emergence of race and ideologies tied to race as a concept extend beyond the experiences of black Americans to other racial and ethnic groups in the United States, for example, and relate also to other groups internationally that have been racialized.

[27] To start, as a political scientist, I understand race to be a social construct. Conceptually, race divides humans into categories based upon physical characteristics that have no biological bearing on the heritable behaviors, intelligence, or survivability of different groups of people. However, this commonly held understanding of race, wherein race explains all behavior and conditions of people, has been contested and reputed differently in the history of intergroup contact in the United States and internationally. In part, this contestation has manifested as a part of the ideals, theories, and “truths” of some religions (principally Christian proponents) and sciences (Social Darwinists) in support of racial hierarchy, white dominance, and colonial expansion over lands occupied by non-white people. Because I specialize in American politics, I wish to emphasize the context of these race-centered epistemological developments and political practices in the context of the United States, while noting some applicable international examples.

[28] For one, if we turn to the mass contact of Europeans with indigenous people from the 16th through the 19th centuries in North America, we see the origins of racial difference, othering, and hierarchical racial ordering. With Europeans’ relations with indigenous people, initial contact ranged from amicable to a conquest of these people through enslavement and occupation of their lands. When indigenous labor no longer proved as profitable, by the end of the 16th century, Europeans turned to the labor of Africans, who for the next three centuries mostly were relegated to slavery through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and domestic slavery, aside from indentured servitude, their being born into freedom, their purchasing their freedom, or their absconding to freedom (Franklin and Moss 1994). With the development of the U.S. Constitution, enslaved black people were not granted citizenship, equality, or rights to the franchise until post-American Civil War. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed them “property” of slaveholders without rights to which the Court or the Constitution would protect (Scott v. Sanford 1857), and fugitive slave laws were even constitutionally protected to insure the return of slaves (as property) to their slaveowners.

[29] Notably, religious and moral-based arguments were used both to support and abolish slavery for both indigenous and black peoples. As pro-slavery proponents would argue, slavery introduced child-like, immoral, and savage people to the “beneficence” of Europeans, who acted as moral guides to reform these “heathen” people towards their salvation by acculturating them to subservient status, introducing them to Europeans’ superior culture, and Christianizing them to obliterate their savagery (Tise 1987; Painter 2007; Smithers 2009). Abolitionists, however, argued that slavery was at odds with Christian principles of egalitarianism, freedom, and individualized moral transformation. These divergent views spawned national debates about the United States’ moral consciousness, and with race at its core, Alexis de Touqueville (1835) would argue that racism was a sure condemnation of democracy for the nation and all its people. The concern for moral foundation among the American public also undergirded the fabric of American nationalism, which inadvertently propagated European-American domination (Goldschmidt 2004).

[30] The pro-slavery versus abolitionist debate and the expansion of slavery into other territories during the mid-nineteenth century pushed the nation towards the American Civil War. It was not until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) of the U.S. Constitution that the institution of slavery was prohibited. Despite this Reconstruction-era constitutional amendment, and other amendments that extended birthright citizenship (Fourteenth Amendment, 1868) and voting rights to black men (Fifteenth Amendment, 1870), by 1877 with the end of Reconstruction, blacks would be further relegated to second-class citizenship via segregation and racial customs via the institution of Jim Crow, which would not end until 1965. Whereas, blacks were already extended citizenship via the Fourteenth Amendment, birthright citizenship and naturalization were excluded from this right for American Indians and Asian Americans. The Naturalization Act of 1790 reserved citizenship for white persons only, and citizenship would not be extended to American Indians until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and to Asian Americans until the passage of both the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, which removed additional nation-of-origin restrictions and quotas that disproportionately affected Asian immigrants.

[31] Through evolving questions about the United States’ expansion to the West and territories around the world and the abolition of slavery, European Americans viewed territorial expansion on indigenous people’s lands as their destined providence (Lee 2004). Dominion over both indigenous people and blacks originated from the perceived burden that European Americans held in educating American Indians to be less savage and instructing blacks to accept their lot as being subservient to whites in order to overcome their perceived sloth. Especially in the latter 19th century, religious missionaries professed education programs meant to reform morally and culturally the inherent, moral shortcomings among African Americans, American Indians, and Chinese immigrants (Smithers 2009; Chang 2004). For American Indians, the moral comportment education programs even physically removed American Indian children from their families, placing them into boarding schools that assimilated them into Christianity and American values.

[32] During the latter nineteenth century influx of eastern and southern European immigration, European ethnic groups such as Italians, Irish, and Jews were seen as lacking the traditional upper crust “stock” of Anglo-Saxons in America (Gossett 1997). Thus, in addition to blacks and American Indians, several European ethnic groups experienced discrimination because of their racial, cultural, and religious “differences” and perceived deficiencies vis-à-vis American-bred, Anglo-Saxons. Even worse, the anti-difference religious and nationalist orientations professed by the nation during the nineteenth century were supported by the increased popularity of scientists linking race to science via “scientific racism,” or the use of science to disparage and malign non-white racial groups and non-Christians.

[33] In the eighteenth century, advances in scientific theory and biological studies also developed under pseudo-scientific hypotheses that claimed that inferior intelligence and morality among certain European (Irish, Jews, and Italians) and non-European groups (blacks, indigenous people, and Asians) could be attributed to their heritable traits, most often pinpointed as their race, but religion was not a cultural artifact left unturned, as Catholicism, Hinduism, and Judaism also were “otherized” in ways depicted as oppositional to Americanized, Christian whiteness (Hart 2002; Snow 2004; Chang 2004), and later in the twentieth century, the juxtaposition of the burning cross at the site of lynchings or public sanctioning raised fear among African Americans at the behest of the Christian-avowed Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist terror organization. Because race was heritable through sanguinity, blood quantum based on ancestral heritage with racial groups developed to classify who belonged to certain racial groups.

[34] More importantly, these quantifications functioned to classify non-European groups as “non-white” and far removed from what was constructed into being “white” because “whites” were hailed as superior in intelligence, culture, and morality to inferior “non-whites.” Over time during the early twentieth century, groups like Jews, Irish people, and Italians would be constructed into “whites,” and it would remain clear that groups that were not constructed into “white” would lack the currency and privilege of “whiteness” (Jacobson 1998). For non-white groups, it would take until the mid-twentieth century for them to acquire equal access to public accommodations (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and voting (Voting Rights Act of 1965). To this extent, whites and non-whites were constructed into separate cultures.

[35] As even state governments would enforce, and did so even more stringently for people of African descent, “one-drop” of non-white blood would deny one not only access to whiteness but also access to the accoutrements of democracy. Greater still, while whites distinguished their religious subscription to Christianity as superior to other religions, science provided the empirics to support whites’ claims about being the supreme racial group through scientific inquiry and methods derived from the Enlightenment Era and the modification of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution into what became known as “Social Darwinism.”

[36] During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, philosophers like Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Comte de Buffon theorized about the human species and distinctions among peoples based on physical characteristics that they attributed to “race.” In fact, Kant was the first philosopher to attribute racial characteristics to traits inheritable across generations (Baum 2006). He also designated four distinct racial groups—white, Negro, Hun (Mongol or Kalmuck) and Hindu or Hindustani races, and he theorized that these “races” were innately different. Most notably, over the next century, ethnological and anthropological studies would emphasize the use of science to “prove” the hierarchy of the white race over all other races, and Social Darwinism would be the dominant theory encapsulating the biological significance of races and human difference.

[37] Social Darwinism extended nineteenth-century anthropologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in Origin of the Species (1859) to the order of social status in the United States. In particular, Darwin’s theory of evolution claimed that species adapted over time to accommodate environmental change. By way of natural selection, those species that adapted best would be more likely to survive environmental change than species that did not. Similarly, Social Darwinism contended that there was a natural ordering of racial groups such that whites were the dominant race and such that other racial groups were inferior and destined to become extinct because they lacked dominant intelligence, culture, and temperament to survive as the “fittest” group. This theory, thus, provided an impetus for funding limited education experiences for some non-white racial groups, relegating them to practical education that focused on industriousness and building moral comportment (Tucker 1994; Smithers 2009). In tandem with Social Darwinist theory, biological studies focused on using biometrics to measure the size of brains (phrenology) and body parts (morphology) to determine “racial differences” and hierarchy. Other theorists would even debate the origins of the racial groups from two perspectives: from multiple origins, that comprised separate, race-specific species of Homo sapiens (polygenesis) or from the same, singular human species (monogenesis).

[38] These biological speculations led to race-specific medical studies and experiments that would disproportionately affect non-white groups, especially black Americans, as targets of scientific inquiry. They also disregarded the fatal outcomes of experimentation because of low-appreciation for the value of the groups’ lives (Washington 2006). Thus, medical experimentation could satisfy studies to verify non-white groups’ inferiority or to abuse their bodies for the “benefit” of science to advance medical discovery and treatments and cures for the benefit of whites’ health.

[39] Over time, as it is even argued today, similar dismissal in the sciences of the value of non-white people’s lives and experiences contributes to limited strains of research and theories about these groups (Tucker 1994); moreover, racism embedded within the logic of social science research also directs inquiries away from studying the strictures of whiteness in Academia and promotes research practices that are exclusive of or limited in consideration of non-whites and other under-represented groups’ conditions (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008). During the early twentieth century, however, anthropologist Franz Boas and other “non-white” social scientists attempted to counter the Social Darwinist arguments that became prevalent in scientific studies in the natural and social sciences (Beardsley 2002; Baker 1998). Nevertheless, despite expanded sub-field foci and research on non-whites, logic and practices limited to theories of whites’ behavior remain evident in contemporary social science research (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008).

Race, Politics, and Discourse

[40] Politically, Social Darwinist-inspired studies spawned the American government’s (and other nation-states’) interest in supporting the development of a great nation of citizens that was oriented in white nationalism (Baum 2006). Consistent with this goal was the attempt to control the purity of the white gene pool, for whites without genetic imperfections like mental illness, physical disabilities, or sundry deviant behaviors and temperaments were the ideal white types. Non-white persons could taint the “pure and perfect” white gene pool either through racial miscegenation (interracial marriage and intercourse) or through increased population growth that threatened the dominance of whites in various contexts in the United States.

[41] To control these demographic transformations, nation-states sponsored eugenics and sterilization programs that, ultimately, controlled the biological composition and numerical presence of ill-reputed genetic traits and ill-regarded racial groups. Nationalism through genes occurred not only in the United States (1930s - 1970s) but also in Nazi Germany, where Jews, homosexuals, and disabled persons were persecuted (Jackson 2002; Allen 2002) and in Australia and the Pacific Rim, where whites were descendants of a European penal colony and Aboriginal people were perceived as “primitive” and savage (Smithers 2009). Ultimately, the national goals for the edification of a white/European empire similarly promoted retention of highly moral and ideal European traits and imperialist and colonialist expansion over the resources and lands of other non-whites on the continents and islands off the coasts of Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America.

[42] More importantly, the laws, institutions, and practices that promulgated racial exclusion, ultimately, contributed to state-sponsored support of white supremacy and the constitution of white consciousness to which whites were the beneficiaries. During the early and mid-twentieth century, non-whites led international counter-insurgencies that comprised massive protests, and ultimately, the pursuits of independence and civil rights movements to dismantle state-sponsored and socially-sanctioned occupation and discrimination. In the United States, these protests focused on fighting negative imagery of non-whites often depicted in the media (sometimes with an emphasis on moral citizenship as counter-politics) and pushing federal, state, and local governments to enforce equal protection of the law (McAdam 1982; Gaines 1996). Globally, indigenous people and other racial or ethnic minorities have developed political agendas to seek some form of repair or official apologies from nations for their role in propagating historic discrimination and exclusion of these groups in their respective societies and to attain societal respect and national membership (Nobles 2008). Simply put, through agency, these groups sought public renderings of their human dignity, despite their historic treatment.

[43] Because of restrictions on public discourses that contested white supremacist ideals, non-white groups like blacks formed their own counterpublics to discuss their political agendas in the context of the United States (Dawson 2001). To this extent, the public sphere itself entertained only racially-constructed and exclusive discourses contrary to the Habermasian public sphere (Habermas 1989). These discourses also were limited by institutions being led by actors who advocated white supremacy or operated in segregated public spaces in which non-whites had limited if any access. This segregation took place in many institutions and public spaces, including even in the context of religious institutions. In effect, pluralism was two-tiered and often parallel between whites and non-whites (Hero 1992).

[44] Divisive politics among religionists with different racial backgrounds also originated from racially-segregated religious institutions, wherein in America, whites and non-whites often did not congregate with one another, and the counterpolitics of black clergy, for example, advanced the political interests of blacks from the pulpit and pews of black churches (McDaniel 2008). Notably, white and non-white religionists also protested on behalf of full civil rights for non-whites. Consistent with white social, political, and economic domination, for many whites, however, overcoming social angst about non-whites’ progress, competition, and infringement on whites’ spaces and resources further informed many whites’ political interests (Schuman et al. 1997; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Haney López 2006) and contributed to their distrust ofracial policies that perceivably benefitted non-whites (Hetherington and Globetti 2002).

[45] For black Americans, socialization about race and racial discrimination, whether based on information transmitted from parent-to-child or through personal discrimination experiences, further influences their racial, social, and political trust, and racial groups (black, white, Latino, and Asian American) disparately trust one another (Nunnally 2012). To this extent, despite the role that institutions can play in mediating and sanctioning trust, they also can play trust-destructive roles in people’s lives, for political institutions, themselves, have promoted the interests of white domination and exclusion to the adverse interests of non-whites. Thus, as I have elucidated here, political institutions have been active in inciting distrust across cultures as opposed to promoting cultures of trust.

On “Building Cultures of Trust” Amid Race in Society

[46] In sum, despite Marty’s attention to the public as a space where religionists and scientists can publicly converse and “build cultures of trust,” history especially in the American context, elucidates otherwise: instead, the public has been a space in which both religionists and scientists have been conversational to promote the exclusion of others based on race. Furthermore, political institutions institutionalized the dominant theoretical framework in racial discourses (with religionists and scientists as contributors) that racial groups were genetically, socially, and politically hierarchical. In this sense, the religionists’ and scientists’ “game” was confounded by race and racism. A priori, this limited the players, plays, and rules of the religionists’ and scientists’ game, as race restricted who were the players and how they could play the game. As I have argued here, the discourses (hence, the game) stemming from these constrained interactions were influenced by the effects of racial construction and politics, the promotion of religious domination based on racial premises, and the advocation of scientific “truths” based on pseudo-scientific hypotheses that further “otherized” and discriminated against non-whites, targeted them for research in ways disparately for the benefit of whites’ health advancements, and exclude(d) them from the focus of inquiries relevant for knowledge about their conditions.

[47] What is of special note, is that while religionists and scientists have been engaged in the same discourses, nevertheless, these two cultures may not necessarily have been engaged in the same conversation about race at the time, as the two engaged in race-related debates in different points in American history. While there is a time-oriented consideration of trust based on perceptions of past, present, and future relations between trustors and trustees (those persons to be trusted), past relations (reputations) can have import in trustors’ assessments of trust in the present and future. Because of the historical and ongoing influence of race on our society, including on religionists and scientists, the quality of the discourses between religionists and scientists may not be considered, in Marty’s view, to be productive for “building cultures of trust.”

[48] Once again, we are left with concerns about deontological ethics and commitments to advancing actions that meliorate the discourses of religionists and scientists. However, the centrality of these discourses relates, in this case, to race and not knowledges for which neither religionists nor scientists may lack authoritative voice, and thus, commit categorical mistakes. Here, both religionists and scientists have some foundational knowledge about the operation of race in our society. The risks that white and non-white people incur by engaging in conversations about race are less certain. In my work (Nunnally 2012), I have termed such uncertainty as racial uncertainty, or “the set of conditions under which actors of different races are uncertain about the discriminatory interests and behaviors of people who are members of racial groups other than their own and who may pose an adverse risk or harm to them as a member of a different racial group” (49). Although in my research I do not find an influence of racial uncertainty on black Americans’ trust in social or political contexts, this does not mean that such uncertainty may not influence how blacks and other groups think about conversations on race in the United States. That is, what risks, if any, does the United States and its people incur if they have open and continuing conversations on race, as Marty’s book would likely encourage, given his thesis about building cultures of trust?

[49] In American politics, President Bill Clinton attempted to make conversations on race a cornerstone of his presidential legacy, as he authorized the White House Initiative on Race. As an American and undergraduate student at North Carolina Central University, I participated as a panelist in one of the Initiative’s conversations convened by the renowned historian of African American history, Dr. John Hope Franklin. The public discourse was among the students at the historically black university in Durham, North Carolina. This conversation, however, was uniracial and among an almost all-black audience. While we were engaged in an open and honest conversation about race, with all kinds of ideological perspectives about the historic, contemporary, and future conditions of race in America, we did not engage in this conversation in a multiracial context. To this extent, I wonder how our conversation would have been affected by this contextual change with game players of different racial backgrounds, for as we are aware, race influences the identities of all racial groups and their members but not necessarily in the same ways, and these identities influence how people interact with one another. Orr (1999), for example, illustrates the usefulness of building cross-racial social capital, or capital that can be used across racial networks for the benefit of facilitating actions to each group’s benefit. Increased interracial contact among racial groups, however, may or may not meliorate interracial relations. What is notable is the extent to which interracial conversations might be productive in uncovering “truths” about race relations in America.

Race, “Truth-Building,” and the Role of Sincere Commitment in Racial Discourse

[50] Nations like South Africa and Rwanda have implemented Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to convene public disclosures about horrific circumstances surrounding race- and ethnic- related violations against groups of people in their societies. In the United States, no such national commission and commencement of “truth” dialogues exist. Conversations about race from the Clinton White House Initiative on Race were not disclosed and documented for public knowledge and consumption until 2008, with the publication of the proceedings from the over 300 public hearings (Lawson and Franklin 2009), over a decade after the conversations. Moreover, as far as public disclosure about race and race relations, Congress never approved the H.R. 40 bill proposed by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) in every session? since 1989 to convene a commission to study the effects of slavery and Jim Crow on black Americans, nor did Congress pass resolutions proposed since 1997 by Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) to form a commission and apologize to African Americans for the suffering of their ancestors under laws protected by the U.S. government through 1865 (Nobles 2008). However, for the first time in American history, Congress approved two apologies (one from the House of Representatives in 2008—H.R. 194 and the other from the Senate in 2009—Senate Concurrent Resolution 26) to African Americans for the government’s role in supporting slavery and Jim Crow. Earlier in 2005, the U.S. Senate also approved an apology (Senate Resolution 39) for not having passed and enacted anti-lynching laws, despite several successful passages in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would have provided federal protection against lynching.

[51] Other apology legislations have been passed for egregiously discriminatory acts against Japanese Americans during their World War II internment (Civil Liberties Act of 1988), Native Hawai’ians with the dissolution of the monarchy of Queen Liliuokalani (the 1993 Congressional Apology to Native Hawai’ians) and the genocide and land removal from American Indians (Senate Joint Resolution 14/Native American Apology 2009), for example, and even have been passed at the state and local levels of government for various groups. How widely known these apologies are to the broader public is not clear. However, extensive public fanfare regarding the passage of these acts has been arguably minimal.

[52] What is clear is that the conversations about race remain more divisive than culturally-enriching as we might hope would be most beneficial in a move towards increasing trust. This is where acknowledgment, commitment to acknowledgment, and racial justice become important for repairing the wounds of historic pain and injury, whether physical or psychological. It is when communities or cultures that have been historically discriminated against or victims of the psychological injuries of these acts see that their respective groups are engaged in earnest, honest, and widely public conversations that I feel they experience moments of respect and feelings of value to cultures aside from their own culture. Even if a moral obligation were to be engaged with respect to historic grievances of groups affected by racial discrimination, as Nobles (2008) asserts, a sincere apology for these grievances brokers the quality of national membership that groups experience, evoking a sense of belonging and respect in their national environs.

[53] Through additional commitments to research the conditions and disparities that groups experience differently, there is an avenue towards public engagement and the elimination of alienating groups from discourses either as participants or as subjects. No longer can some cultures dominate societies in ways that do not commit morally to inclusion, while some communities languish and flounder. Behaviors that signal commitments and, ultimately, inclusive conversations and involvements on behalf of multiple cultures, in my humble opinion, promote “building cultures of trust.” Moving towards racial justice, in this sense, accounts for religionists and scientists evoking voices that change the tenor of historic, racial conversations and practices, and this also moves the two cultures toward melioration.

Afterthoughts about Trust and Race Per Marty’s “Building Cultures of Trust”

[54] To conclude, I leave the reader with additional questions that I have that stem from my reading of Marty’s text:

[55] What is our moral commitment to do what is right? From where does this orientation originate? Is this also a question about human nature? Is trust, itself, moral? That is, do we aspire to be trusting as a consequence of trust being moral? Does one have to trust in others in order for trust to exist as a concept? Or, can trust exist with only one trustor trusting in the other person or a larger institution? Does trust have to be mutually beneficial to both the trustor and the trustee? Is there such a thing as (in)sincere trust commitment as a part of a trust game and as an indicator of ethics and moral obligation? While reading this text prompted the aforementioned questions about trust, they also led me to consider the more extensive discussion about these inquiries via Russell Hardin’s Trust and Trustworthiness (2002)and their implications for building cross-cultural and cross-racial trust in the context of the United States, for these conversations not only reflect historic debates among religionists and scientists but also reflect similar levels of controversy between these two groups as we may witness between whites and non-whites in a conversation about race.

[56] To my points about race and cultures of trust, I also ask the following questions: Should non-white groups “forget” memories and knowledge about historical racial discrimination against their groups in order to move beyond the pain and distrust stemming from racial discrimination? What are the politics of “forgetting” and “remembering” that contribute to or detract from “building cultures of trust”? What ethical commitments should whites partake, more specifically, in “building cultures of trust”? Are these ethical commitments one-sided and applicable to whites only, or are non-whites equally obligated to ethical commitments in racial discourse? What would be the norms, structures, and contexts of an ideal racial discourse? Do we have to convince people that broad-based public discourses are not just a “blame game” but rather constitutive of a striving for a greater order of “truth” about our society? In the same vein as Nobles (2008), who questions how “the politics of apologies” involve the structuring of historic narratives and who masters the metanarratives of nations, I ask, how can we move history beyond the accounts of those who have the power to control the contours of discourse? Moreover, how can history and discourses about the future of race and politics move us towards “building cultures of trust”? Quite frankly, post-racial discourses that suggest that we have transcended the trajectories and conflicts of racial construction and its related discriminations are conversation-defeating, anachronistic, and falsifiable. Rather, our hermeneutical and epistemological challenges rest in acknowledging the effects that race, itself, has had on structuring our knowledge sets, and as I have argued earlier, our discourses.

[57] In all, I hope that this response, too, can spawn continuing conversations and discourses about the ways that people from different backgrounds approach discourse, in general, and trust in civil society.

Shayla C. Nunnally is the author of Trust in Black America: Race, Discrimination, and Politics (New York University Press, 2012) and an associate professor of political science and African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.



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1. I refer to religions and sciences in the plural forms to acknowledge the several sects and disciplines of religion and science.



© September 2012
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 12, Issue 5