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Living in the Shadow of the Cross, by Paul Kivel

Understanding and Resisting the Power and Privilege of Christian Hegemony

Reviewed by Wendy Elisheva Somerson

Reading Paul Kivel’s groundbreaking book Living in the Shadow of the Cross is by turns invigorating and overwhelming for exactly the same reason—he is shining a spotlight on the often unnoticed but pervasive system of Christian domination in the United States. As a Jew living in a Christian-dominated culture, I found it simultaneously validating and devastating to read Kivel’s compilation of the extensive manifestations of Christian hegemony from the routine (our shared calendar and public holidays) to the less obvious (Christian influence on U.S. domestic and foreign policy).

Kivel sets up a 101-style study of Christian hegemony, which he defines as “the everyday, systematic set of Christian values, individuals, and institutions that dominate all aspects of US society.” Differentiating between individual people who identify as Christian (and may even be inspired to work for justice by an aspect of Christianity, such as liberation theology) and the structure of Christian dominance, Kivel deconstructs a system of power that benefits Christians and those who pass as Christian. Indeed, this system has become so invisible that it appears to be secular, and many folks who grew up Christian fail to notice where their cultural reference points originate.

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