Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine (Hardcover)

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A provocative history of men who were worshipped as gods that illuminates the connection between power and religion and the role of divinity in a secular age

Ever since 1492, when Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World and was hailed as a heavenly being, the accidental god has haunted the modern age. From Haile Selassie, acclaimed as the Living God in Jamaica, to Britain’s Prince Philip, who became the unlikely center of a new religion on a South Pacific island, men made divine—always men—have appeared on every continent. And because these deifications always emerge at moments of turbulence—civil wars, imperial conquest, revolutions—they have much to teach us.

In a revelatory history spanning five centuries, a cast of surprising deities helps to shed light on the thorny questions of how our modern concept of “religion” was invented; why religion and politics are perpetually entangled in our supposedly secular age; and how the power to call someone divine has been used and abused by both oppressors and the oppressed. From nationalist uprisings in India to Nigerien spirit possession cults, Anna Della Subin explores how deification has been a means of defiance for colonized peoples. Conversely, we see how Columbus, Cortés, and other white explorers amplified stories of their godhood to justify their dominion over native peoples, setting into motion the currents of racism and exclusion that have plagued the New World ever since they touched its shores.

At once deeply learned and delightfully antic, Accidental Gods offers an unusual keyhole through which to observe the creation of our modern world. It is that rare thing: a lyrical, entertaining work of ideas, one that marks the debut of a remarkable literary career.

About the Author

Anna Della Subin is a writer, critic, and independent scholar born in New York. Her essays have appeared in the New York Review of Books, Harper's, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. A senior editor at Bidoun, she studied the history of religion at Harvard Divinity School. Accidental Gods is her first book.

Praise For…

"Riveting . . . The book is replete with astonishing details . . . Subin, who combines fierce analytic intelligence with powerful storytelling, has synthesized vast amounts of information [and] deftly places [apotheosis] in the broader context of imperialism."
—Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine

“Accidental Gods is the sly, smart, and gloriously impious chronicle of mortal men who were mistakenly deified by dint of their race, but also sometimes because of their money, their technology, their power. Anna Della Subin has written their bible, which, unlike the earlier testaments, doesn't found a religion, but dissolves one.”
—Joshua Cohen, author of Book of Numbers and The Netanyahus

Accidental Gods relates, with tremendous intellectual ingenuity and resourcefulness, a new history of the modern world: how the quest for divine sanction and spiritual transcendence remain at the center of our ostensibly rational and secular political and economic struggles.”
—Pankaj Mishra, author of Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire

“In Accidental Gods Anna Della Subin has unearthed a startling, unexpectedly rich stratum of the sacred. Rich, witty, acerbic and often astonishing, Accidental Gods reveals how terror and divinity are intertwined—in the colonial enterprise, in present-day strong-leader cults, and in nationalist statecraft. A highly original, revelatory study, entertaining and sobering at once as it identifies a persistent danger: the mythopolitics that fails to distinguish between men and gods.”
—Marina Warner, author of Stranger Magic

Accidental Gods opens new perspectives, shines new light on overlooked corners of our global history, and conveys its powerful messages at first quietly, in subtext, and then more and more explicitly. The tales told here by Anna Della Subin are often colorful and bizarre, often melancholy—oh, man’s repeated inhumanity to man!—but always enlightening and engrossing.”
—Lydia Davis, author of The Collected Stories and Essays One and Two

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250296870
ISBN-10: 1250296870
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Pages: 480
Language: English