Beginning with contemporary efforts to reckon with the legacy of white supremacy in America, Jones returns to the fateful year when a little-known church doctrine emerged that shaped the way five centuries of European Christians would understand the "discovered" world and the people who populated it. Along the way, he shows us the connections between Emmett Till and the Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto in the Mississippi Delta, between the lynching of three Black circus workers in Duluth and the mass execution of thirty-eight Dakota men in Mankato, and between the murder of 300 African Americans during the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa and the Trail of Tears.
From this vantage point, Jones shows how the enslavement of Africans was not America's original sin but, rather, the continuation of acts of genocide and dispossession flowing from the first European contact with Native Americans. These deeds were justified by people who embraced the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery: the belief that God had designated all territory not inhabited or controlled by Christians as their new promised land.
This reframing of American origins explains how the founders of the United States could build the philosophical framework for a democratic society on a foundation of mass racial violence--and why this paradox survives today in the form of white Christian nationalism. Through stories of people navigating these contradictions in three communities, Jones illuminates the possibility of a new American future in which we finally fulfill the promise of a pluralistic democracy.
Robert P. Jones is the president and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and a leading scholar and commentator on religion and politics. Jones writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic, TIME, and Religion News Service. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as MSNBC, CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. He holds a PhD in religion from Emory University and a MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, which won a 2021 American Book Award, and The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. He writes a regular Substack newsletter at RobertPJones.substack.com.
Jones will be in conversation with Wajahat Ali, a New York Times contributing op-ed writer, public speaker, recovering attorney, and tired dad of three cute kids. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Guardian, and New York Review of Books. He lives in the Washington, DC, area.