September 6, 2022

What is work? Why do we do it? And what does it have to do with religion? Join CCSR Visiting Fellow Lauren Kerby to explore where Americans’ ideas about work come from (spoiler alert: race and gender are involved too). In this episode, learn how white Americans used their conviction that people should work–like them–to justify violence against Black and indigenous peoples. 

About the Expert

Dr. Lauren R. Kerby is an expert in American religion and politics. Her first book, Saving History, explores white Christian nationalists’ version of American history through a study of Christian heritage tours in Washington, D.C. During those tours, she started paying attention to how religion can influence what people say or do even when it’s completely implicit. Her current project, Religion at Work, develops strategies to notice that deep level of religion in society, using Americans’ ideas about work as a case study. This series is informed by her own experiences of unemployment, precarity, and workplace sexism, even as it is made possible by her privilege as a middle class, educated white woman currently employed at Princeton University.

This series was filmed and produced on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded lands of the Lenni-Lenape people, who maintain a continuing relationship with their territory.

Start a Conversation

  1. Think of someone you know who doesn’t work in the traditional sense of exchanging labor for a wage or salary. What do they do? Who does it benefit? What questions could you ask them to learn about their experience?
  2. Look closely at the painting “American Progress” in the video (05:52). In your own words, what deep story is this painting telling? What’s missing from that story? What would you add to this painting to tell a different story?
  3. One classroom wall at the Carlisle School was painted with the words “Labor Conquers All Things” (09:17). What does that mean in the context of enslavement and residential schools? Why do you think it appears on a classroom wall?

Selected Sources

Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction. University of Kansas Press, 1995.

Fear-Segal, Jacqueline, and Susan D. Rose, editors. Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations. University of Nebraska, 2016.

Foreman, P. Gabrielle, Jim Casey, and Sarah Lynn Patterson, editors. The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the 19th Century. University of North Carolina Press, 2021. 

Leroy, Justin, and Destin Jenkins, editors. Histories of Racial Capitalism. Columbia University Press, 2021.