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Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine

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NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE, THE IRISH TIMES AND THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT 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 go NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE, THE IRISH TIMES AND THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT 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.


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NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE, THE IRISH TIMES AND THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT 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 go NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE, THE IRISH TIMES AND THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT 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.

30 review for Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Deification has been defiance: from the depths of abjection, creating gods has been a way to imagine alternative political futures, wrest back sovereignty, and catch power. -------------------------------------- Gods are born ex-nihilo and out of lotuses, from the white blood of the sea-foam, or the earwax of a bigger god. They are also birthed on dining room tables and when spectacles of power are taken too far. They are born when men find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. G Deification has been defiance: from the depths of abjection, creating gods has been a way to imagine alternative political futures, wrest back sovereignty, and catch power. -------------------------------------- Gods are born ex-nihilo and out of lotuses, from the white blood of the sea-foam, or the earwax of a bigger god. They are also birthed on dining room tables and when spectacles of power are taken too far. They are born when men find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. Gods are made in sudden deaths, violent accidents, they ascend in the smoke of a pyre, or wait, in their tombs, for offerings of cigars. But gods are also created through storytelling, through history-writing, cross-referencing, footnoting, repeating. Heaven knows, there are plenty of men who think they are god’s gift to humanity. For most of them we roll our eyes and pretend to see a friend across the room that we simply must go to, or vote for anyone else. Serious problems occur when the number of foolish people in a community so outnumbers those with brains that the self-deified persuades enough sheeple that he is who he imagines himself to be. History is far too rich with examples of the Badlands lyric poor man wants to be rich, rich man wants to be king, and a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything. Another, non-rhyming, way to put that last bit is that a king is not satisfied until he becomes a god. Roman emperors were notorious for this brand of nonsense. The appeal of deification is strong. A comparable theological tool has been the Divine Right of Kings, typically used to justify rule over white subjects in Europe. And nicely translated into Manifest Destiny in justifying American expansion westward. As the author notes, sometimes those engaging in apotheosis are crazy like a fox, employing a methodology that is overtly religious for a covertly political aim. Consider how so many evangelicals in the USA, led by their institutional leaders, have made common cause with the most amoral president in American history, claiming his selection by God. You really can fool some of the people all the time. Anna Della Subin - image from Nina Subin Photography, by Nina Subin But there are others who find themselves regarded as divine without really trying. Anna Della Subin looks at the history of many people who have been deemed to have risen beyond the merely mortal, whether they were still alive or not. She uses a broad brush for who counts in that list. There is no single definition of what it means to be a god, or divine. Divinity emerges not as an absolute state, but a spectrum, able to encompass an entire range of meta-persons: living gods, demigods, avatars, ancestor deities, divine spirits who possess human bodies in a trance. I would add saints to that list, the nyads and dryads of Christianity. Surely prophets could find a cozy place on the spectrum, not to mention heroes of ancient Greek legend, intercessors called karāmāt in Islam, and how about those supposedly “chosen” by god for this or that. Many a king certainly claimed a divine right to rule. But who gets to decide who is a prophet, or a hero, or a saint? Yes, I know the RC canonizes individuals as saints for its institution, but there are plenty of candidates, deemed saints by large numbers of people, who never receive the official imprimatur. Can public opinion alone certify sainthood? Was Mother Teresa a saint before the Church hierarchy canonized her, or did she have to wait until her ticket number was called and her application stamped by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints? Point is, divinity is squishy, and often designated by popular will (with or without political manipulation) rather than bestowed by those sitting atop religious institutions. For good or ill, most of us are touched by religion, and take on many of its beliefs, whether knowingly or by osmosis. For example, according to western religions, there are the living and the dead, and never the twain shall meet. Well, except for carve-out exceptions here and there. (for raising the debt ceiling, maybe?) Jesus pops to mind. Human? Divine? Less-filling? Tastes great? Even his mother, who supposedly died a natural death was “assumed” up to heaven, her tomb having been found empty on day three post-mortem. Thus, the rather large notion of Mary’s Assumption. And you know what happens when you assume. Not usually physical elevation to another plane of existence. But this line was not always thought to be so fixed. Even in the time of Jesus, the barrier between here and there was seen as more of a curtain than a firewall. But to us in the 21st century it seems particularly strange that people anywhere believed that human beings could become gods. (Well, I hereby offer a carve-out for Sondheim. Our Stephen, who art on Broadway, hallowed be thy name) Yet many have been deified, often without their permission, and sometimes over their considerable objections. (not The Divine Miss M, though) The Pythons were on to something in The Life of Brian. “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” Surely post-mortem Elvis sightings fit into this array somewhere. Thus the folks Subin writes of here. The book is divided into a trinity of parts. In the first she covers in detail the divination of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Prince Phillip of the UK, and General Douglas MacArthur. Part I goes into considerable detail about Selassie, and it is all incredibly fascinating, including the use of his supposed divinity by Jamaican politicians for their own ends. Prince Phillip was imagined to be divine by the residents of what is now Vanuatu. It was news to him. It was likely sourced in the knowledge that he was in a position to deliver considerable physical materials to the island, so what could it hurt to feed his ego by claiming godhood for him, if there was even a chance that he might come through with some much-needed supplies. MacArthur was raised to divinity on multiple continents, and in diverse ways. If Stalin, in attempting to minimize the military impact of religion, asked How many divisions has the Pope? had substituted “Pipe” for ”Pope,” considering MacArthur’s apotheosized position, he would have gotten a very different answer. 7 foot balsa rendering of MacArthur built to lead an army of wooden figures against dark spiritual forces - Image from University of Chicago The section continues, noting several colonial military sorts who were raised up by third-world locals. Part II offers many more examples of westerners being viewed as gods by the colonized. Queen Victoria is among those, although her newly exalted status did not soften her opposition to women’s suffrage. The local practice of Sati, Hindu widows immolating themselves on their late husbands’ biers, comes in for a look, as those who went through this were deemed holy. Annie Besant - image from BBC Sounds There is an immersive tale of Annie Besant, of the Theosophist religion, a supposed single path to divinity, joining the beliefs of all religions, and the rise and fall and rise of Krishnamurti, a boy believed divine, who was nurtured by the Theosophists, and who would ultimately follow his own path. This is a story worthy of its own book, and Netflix mini-series. Krishnamurti - image from the Theosophical Library Subin takes us into the 20th century in which there were some in India who viewed Hitler as (yet another) avatar of Vishnu, and later, according to some, Vish reappears in the person of U.S. president Dwight David Eisenhower, who might fit the bill a bit better, given that he had control of nuclear arms and could, with such god-like power, become a literal destroyer of worlds. Ike visits India in 1959- image from Outlook India Subin also looks at the myth-making around the early European visits to the New World. Expedition leaders said that the locals revered them as gods, but it is quite possible, given that they did not at all speak the local patois, that the New Worlders had been significantly misquoted. She points out that the claims added heft to the already strained reasoning being crafted to justify enslaving the indigenous people and seizing their land, in seeing them as too barbaric, and simple-minded to rule over their own affairs. This book is as much about colonialism as it is about religion. I was shocked, frankly, at how many cases Subin cites of people (usually public officials of one sort or another), being worshipped as gods in various places. Most often, in this telling, anyway, it is white colonials being raised up by the colonized. Sometimes while still with us. Prince Phillip, for example, was worshipped while still in his prime. Captain Cook, on the other hand, was seen as a deity both before and after he had been the long pig main course in a Hawaiian feast. Julius Caesar could probably relate. (Et yet, Brute?) Subin makes a case for apotheosis being primarily a white colonial enterprise, not that Westerners necessarily went to colonial nations expecting to be worshipped, but they were more than happy to take advantage of the local predilections when it suited their needs. She also writes about the consolidation of religions, particularly the many faiths that were lumped together under the heading of Hinduism. Animism to ancestor worship to shamanism to localized religions, to world religions seems much like the global consolidation of small businesses to large businesses to corporations to trans-national corporations in the economic sphere, and toward a similar purpose. So, there is a huge lot to unpack in this book. And not just the specific history of humans being worshipped as something more. There is a lot in here about the whiteness infused in colonialism and the cited examples of apotheosis. There is a mind-bending discussion about whether we are people made in god’s image, and the implications of religions that hold that image as reflecting the color of their skin alone. I have some gripes, per usual. While I loved the deep-dig stories about several of the characters portrayed here (Anne Besant, Krishnamurti, Hailie Selassie, et al) I often felt bogged down in a firehose flow of names, places, and dates where accidental god-hood took place. Reading in the more survey-report sections became a slog. Which is one reason why this review is being posted two weeks post publication, not the Friday immediately before or after. I was not exactly dashing back to my computer to read. Maybe it is like taking too large a slice of a torte, and being unable to finish it. Some dismissive items bugged me. There is a reference early on (in the wake of the pale world’s first “internecine” war [WW I]) to WW I, which seems remarkably oblivious regarding the centuries of war waged by European nations on each other. I also caught a whiff of what I perceived, correctly or not, as woke lecturing, with only whiteness, in the guise of the association of godliness with whiteness by the colonial powers, at fault for all the world’s ills. I make no argument with her perception of colonial whitewashing of history, but aren’t other invasive cultures worth at least a mention? Were there no examples to be found of the people subjected by the Japanese, the Chinese, by Genghis Khan, by Incas, Aztecs and other expansive cultures encountering the same sort of deification? I get the sense that she is rooting for the elimination of all authority held by Caucasians. White supremacy will not leave us until we reject the divinity of whiteness. White is a moral choice, as James Baldwin writes. Faced with the choice, I blush and refuse. I take issue with this. While I agree that white supremacy is of a cloth with an exclusively white divinity and that both deserve to be rejected, I feel no personal reason to blush at being white. My working-class ancestors were being exploited by their rulers in diverse European nations when Conquistadors and explorers of various maritime powers were seizing lands in the New World from the residents they found there. Horrible? Of course. But not a cause to blanket-blame white people. For the moment at least, and despite the history, which is nicely referenced in the book, of how we came to use the mislabel of race, it remains a common element of today’s world. As such, it is not a moral choice to refuse or to accept being white. It just is. And I, for one, make no apology for DNA over which I had no choice. Gripes over, there is much in Accidental Gods that is eye-opening and fascinating, with several detailed stories that could each justify their own books, a serious examination of deification in several contexts, and gobs of unexpected information, if a bit too much at times. Were these deified people gods? Of course not. They were human beings who were born, lived and died like the rest of us. Insisting that they are deities is some hi-test bullshit. That said, bovine droppings may smell bad, but mix them with some compost and you can make a meaningful fertilizer, a popular ingredient in terrorist explosives. And deified humans have proven quite useful in fueling many a sociopolitical crop. It doesn’t matter whether anyone believes it or not; belief is not the right question to ask. As Merton wrote, “When a myth-dream is constantly in the papers and on TV, it seems pretty real!” The religion of Philip is real because it has been told and retold, by South Pacific priests and BBC storytellers, by journalists and Palace press officers, in a continuous, mutual myth-making over the course of forty years. Review posted – December 24, 2021 Publication date – December 7, 2021 This review has been cross-posted on my site, Coot’s Reviews. Stop by and say Hi! I received an e-ARE of Accidental Gods from Holt in return for my eternal blessings upon them as their rightful and all-powerful ruler. Particular blessings upon Maia for her help in arranging this miracle. =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Instagram, and Twitter pages Item of Interest from the author -----London Review of Books - Several Subin pieces for LRB -----The Guardian - How to kill a god: the myth of Captain Cook shows how the heroes of empire will fall - an edited excerpt Items of Interest ----- General MacArthur among the Guna: The Aesthetics of Power and Alterity in an Amerindian Society -----The Guardian – 11/27/21 - ‘There was a prophecy I would come’: the western men who think they are South Pacific kings by Christopher Lloyd -----George Carlin: Stand Up About Religion

  2. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    (Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Anna Della Subin's first published work is centered around a topic that I personally have never seen explored in such focus and detail before - unintentionally deified men. A few of these were figures that I was broadly familiar with beforehand, like Halie Selassie and his central role in the Rasta faith and early European explorers like Columbus and Cortés. There were many more whose unplanned divinity was news to me, (Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Anna Della Subin's first published work is centered around a topic that I personally have never seen explored in such focus and detail before - unintentionally deified men. A few of these were figures that I was broadly familiar with beforehand, like Halie Selassie and his central role in the Rasta faith and early European explorers like Columbus and Cortés. There were many more whose unplanned divinity was news to me, such as Prince Philip’s godhood in what is today the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu the several different incarnations that General Douglas has taken, and the myriad of assorted figures that have received some degree of divinity in India. To say the least, shortly after I started reading Accidental Gods I quickly found myself very absorbed. What really makes this book shine is how Subin goes above and beyond. A lesser author and scholar may have been perfectly content to have the book just be a collection of interesting instances of bestowed godhood. And an even lesser author may have done the same while reducing many of the adherents of several of the mentioned cults and religious movements into curious spectacles for readers to gawk at, even unintentionally so. Such was not the case whatsoever here. First of all, Subin takes care to detail the full contexts of where the various deifications originated. By telling these stories as completely as she can in the confines of her own work, the author both treats different believer groups with respect and understanding, but also ends up with more complex narratives that are genuinely more fascinating than the lesser descriptions that could have been. On top of that, Subin uses the subject matter as an opportunity to tackle an assortment of different matters of religion. The dynamics of religion and power receive quite a lot of attention in particular, and a good deal of the book is spent shining a light both on instances where godhood was used intentionally as a tool in an arsenal of exploitation and justification of oppression and also in cases where a colonized or oppressed group flipped the script and found a means of resistance through a subversive faith. All in all, it’s extremely impressive how Subin elevates her subject material from merely interesting to an eye-opening work that leaves much to mentally chew on for a long while afterward. It’s my hope that Subin’s first publication is just the first of many. This was one of the most intriguing nonfiction reads I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying so far this year, and I can hardly wait to see what subject will receive the author’s thoughtful coverage and analysis next.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shareca

    Accidental Gods by Anna Della Subin is a fascinating and wonderful read about history. Accidental Gods is a highly readable and highly thought-provoking book. It centers on the stories of various historical figures (for example, Haile Selassie, Prince Philip, Douglas MacArthur, etc.) who have been unwittingly worshiped worldwide over time. It is a fantastic novel with fantastic stories.

  4. 4 out of 5

    agata

    Accidental Gods is a collection of stories of men (and women, but the book focuses mostly on men) who became gods. Their deification was sometimes accidental, sometimes unintentional, but what I loved about this book is how Subin focuses a lot on how the divinity gave the new "gods" powers to exploit and oppress, and how happily they used that power. The men Subin tells us about are not only the most famous cases like Halie Selassie, but also the lesser-known ones, like a 19th-century British ar Accidental Gods is a collection of stories of men (and women, but the book focuses mostly on men) who became gods. Their deification was sometimes accidental, sometimes unintentional, but what I loved about this book is how Subin focuses a lot on how the divinity gave the new "gods" powers to exploit and oppress, and how happily they used that power. The men Subin tells us about are not only the most famous cases like Halie Selassie, but also the lesser-known ones, like a 19th-century British army officer, John Nicholson. Subin writes about the strong connection between deification and colonialism, and how big of a role race played in those relationships. While full of historical facts and dates, this book is so intriguing and fascinating that I couldn't put it down. I loved how complex and detailed it was, and how everything ties to modern times. I also loved that Subin doesn't treat the people believing in those "gods" with a lack of respect - making fun of people who worship Prince Philip sounds like a pretty easy thing to do - but instead, she explains how those people ended up there with a lot of understanding and care.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scot

    I thought I would be reading a range of anecdotes of so called "cargo cults" where strangers showing up in "exotic" lands are thought to be gods. Well, this author schooled me and I am delighted she did. This is a brilliant book, incredibly deep and far reaching in its research, daunting in its scope, well interconnected in its execution, and demonstrative of a gift for language and vocabulary. Ms. Subin attempts--and succeeds-- to assess all the incidents of this "men thought to be gods" paradig I thought I would be reading a range of anecdotes of so called "cargo cults" where strangers showing up in "exotic" lands are thought to be gods. Well, this author schooled me and I am delighted she did. This is a brilliant book, incredibly deep and far reaching in its research, daunting in its scope, well interconnected in its execution, and demonstrative of a gift for language and vocabulary. Ms. Subin attempts--and succeeds-- to assess all the incidents of this "men thought to be gods" paradigm drama across cultures and through time, from both perspectives, both before and after, whenever possible. This in itself is quite a feat, but she goes one step farther, overlaying it into a framework to analyze interconnections with the rise and spread of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, sexism, and racism, with a focus on white supremacy. It turns out these fascinating encounters in which gods are supposed or claimed provide eye-opening ways into a deeper understanding of how all these isms are truly interrelated to each other.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Garret Giblin

    An absolutely fascinating book that makes sense of the seemingly inexplicable deification of certain figures in modern history. Spoiler alert: colonialism is mostly to blame

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    Fails to live up to what could have been an interesting book on the history of people worshiped as gods, instead being kind of a slog through matter at least as much political and screed-y as religious. In fact, a book half this size that was more straightforward and stayed on topic and had a more compelling narrative arc could have been a very good book and even enjoyable to read. This book, no. I mainly picked it up to read about Haile Selassie and maybe a bit about Prince Philip. The rest was Fails to live up to what could have been an interesting book on the history of people worshiped as gods, instead being kind of a slog through matter at least as much political and screed-y as religious. In fact, a book half this size that was more straightforward and stayed on topic and had a more compelling narrative arc could have been a very good book and even enjoyable to read. This book, no. I mainly picked it up to read about Haile Selassie and maybe a bit about Prince Philip. The rest was very meh. The treatment of even those two more interesting people was also kind of meh. And those were at the start of the book, so it was mostly downhill from there. The part about Captain Cook was interesting, but I had never heard the story of his demise told seriously before, so...mileage may vary on that one. Also, I got the impression that the author low-key hated everyone she wrote about from start to finish. I cannot fathom writing an approximately 400-page book about people I hate. How does one stay motivated?? Overall, it's just not a terribly good book, and considering that, it is a very long one. I would recommend having at least some background in Eastern Religions, especially Hinduism, to appreciate some of the later parts.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrej

    Who wouldn't want to be a god? A few people have succeeded in history. Although maybe not intentionally. This is discussed in the publication Accidental Gods by the writer Anna della Subin. The book entered the New York Times Editor's Choice. During Roman times, it was common to elevate emperors to gods. Until Christianity was elevated to something unattainable by humankind. The problem is how to determine who or what God is. Whether it is based on some general awareness or the nature of the pers Who wouldn't want to be a god? A few people have succeeded in history. Although maybe not intentionally. This is discussed in the publication Accidental Gods by the writer Anna della Subin. The book entered the New York Times Editor's Choice. During Roman times, it was common to elevate emperors to gods. Until Christianity was elevated to something unattainable by humankind. The problem is how to determine who or what God is. Whether it is based on some general awareness or the nature of the person. The first part of the book deals with this theory. One way to become a god is to be possessed. But whether a person will have enough free will to enjoy it, I will leave it to the imagination 😊 The following are the individual stories of more or less famous figures in history who have reached the apothesis, that is, the transformation into some divine being, at least from the point of view of their followers. The first deified person of the modern era was the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. He is even named Rastafarian and his followers were strong fanatics. Fame was, however, stronger than state ability, and yet he ruled until his death. For one tribe on Vanatu, the British Prince Philip is also a god, or for some time the American General Douglas McArthur was also a god. One of the conditions of the peace treaty with Japan after World War II was that the Japanese emperor had to give up his own "divinity" and General McArthur became his successor in the eyes of many Japanese. The classics are Spanish conquistadori or the worship of the image of the English queen on an Indian rupee coin. Mahatma Gandhi also became a god during his life. However, he did not like it at all, because he was harassed by worshipers at every turn. During the colonization, the phenomenon of so-called cargookers, when the natives began to consider the captains of ships, pilots who brought food or supplies to remote areas. But not only gods but also demons. Captain James Cook treated his "followers" in the Hawaiian Islands so badly that they preferred to execute him. The book is strongly dominated by racism. In most cases, the white man, who technologically dominated over darker-skinned people, was declared the god. As I read how a devotional and an ordinary English soldier in India, through superstitions and word-of-mouth distortions, I wonder if not all the world's religions have started. Although there were many interesting philosophies, theologies, and histories in the book, many passages described the overly detailed lives of various small supporting characters, and were quite lengthy and boring. It's not a book entirely for experiential reading, but it looks more like a rigorous job.

  9. 5 out of 5

    M D'Hamto

    In "Accidental Gods," Anna Della Subin offers expansive narratives of apotheosis – the practice of worshiping men as living gods – and connects them to the creation of the modern world. Drawing on records of deification in territories colonized by Spain, Britain, and America, Subin illustrates how Europeans developed the modern concept of racial hierarchy from ideas of divinity to justify colonization and subjugation. Perhaps not ironically, god-making became necessary to forge nationalist and l In "Accidental Gods," Anna Della Subin offers expansive narratives of apotheosis – the practice of worshiping men as living gods – and connects them to the creation of the modern world. Drawing on records of deification in territories colonized by Spain, Britain, and America, Subin illustrates how Europeans developed the modern concept of racial hierarchy from ideas of divinity to justify colonization and subjugation. Perhaps not ironically, god-making became necessary to forge nationalist and liberatory movements in post-colonial contexts. Diasporic communities look to gods in their own images to dismantle colonial constructs and fuel nationalist struggles. The author assumes no prior knowledge, taking care to tell compelling stories in a concise and factual way. The book is elegantly written, flaunting the author’s mastery of theology to problematize the racist roots of present-day Christianity. Subin’s analysis exposes deep-seated biases of the time, noting ethnocentric assumptions about the intentions of native peoples, hopelessly lost in translation of both language and cultural mores. In my lifelong journey of decolonization, I am grateful for this book. It reinforced the emancipatory power of the decolonial imagination to both create and destroy. Subin connects the spread of Christianity among indigenous populations to white supremacy and racism. For me, the most powerful testimonies are grounded in resistance and dissidence: how colonized peoples used apotheosis to their own advantage by reclaiming divinity. This review was originally published in Manhattan Book Review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dan Cassino

    There’s plenty of histories of religion, but this takes an entirely novel tack, by looking at all of the ways in which men (and a few women) have been elevated to godhood of one kind or another in the past several hundred years. The early chapters, focusing on men elevated against their will, and often against their express wishes (think Haile Salasse and Rastafarianism) are the best. It will surprise no one to find that Prince Phillip of England is just about the only example of someone who see There’s plenty of histories of religion, but this takes an entirely novel tack, by looking at all of the ways in which men (and a few women) have been elevated to godhood of one kind or another in the past several hundred years. The early chapters, focusing on men elevated against their will, and often against their express wishes (think Haile Salasse and Rastafarianism) are the best. It will surprise no one to find that Prince Phillip of England is just about the only example of someone who seems to enjoy their apotheosis. Later chapters become less focused, dealing with wider societal currents, rather than individuals, but it’s still an interesting study of comparative religion. Subin writes clearly, about both religion and history, and about a variety of cultures. It’s a wide ranging, humane look at the porous line between men and gods, and those who straddle it. Well worth the read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pooja Peravali

    Accidental Gods discusses a variety of men and women - though mostly men - who unwillingly or unintentionally underwent deification, from Haile Selassie of Rastafarianism to a multitude of colonial demigods. The author uses a wide variety of sources and writes in lovely evocative language to relate information. She relates apotheosis to oppression and colonialism, showing clearly the origins of the homemade religions and their causes and aftereffects. She does a good job at distilling complex ide Accidental Gods discusses a variety of men and women - though mostly men - who unwillingly or unintentionally underwent deification, from Haile Selassie of Rastafarianism to a multitude of colonial demigods. The author uses a wide variety of sources and writes in lovely evocative language to relate information. She relates apotheosis to oppression and colonialism, showing clearly the origins of the homemade religions and their causes and aftereffects. She does a good job at distilling complex ideas to understandable parts without simplifying them. She writes about often outlanish ideas without exoticizing them, which I applaud her for. The subject is a fascinating one, and I greatly enjoyed my read, even if I did feel that some parts of latter chapters got repetitive on occasion. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Buermann

    What begins as a series of fascinating meditations on modern and more-or-less well documented cases of mortal apotheosis -- from the movement in Jamaica to make Haile Selassie a god to the British and American soldiers worshipped across the swathes of their empires to the English Theosophists who made a god of an Indian child -- eventually turns back on itself to explore the accounts of European explorers and colonizers who fancied themselves deified by the unintelligible natives they encountere What begins as a series of fascinating meditations on modern and more-or-less well documented cases of mortal apotheosis -- from the movement in Jamaica to make Haile Selassie a god to the British and American soldiers worshipped across the swathes of their empires to the English Theosophists who made a god of an Indian child -- eventually turns back on itself to explore the accounts of European explorers and colonizers who fancied themselves deified by the unintelligible natives they encountered, and how the mythologies of those encounters and the questions they raised about Christian universalism became embedded in subsequent theories of racial hierarchy, scientific racism, and other permutations of white supremacy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    AnthonyPage

    This book could have been an article. It literally made the same point (badly) for 200 pages and I gave up. It has absolutely no reason to be as long as it is, and it’s not even that long. I hate it. Maybe I’ll burn it. I don’t usually think you can rate a DNF but this book deserves 1 stars, it cannot get better.

  14. 5 out of 5

    A.j.

    DNF. I enjoyed the first section about cargo cults, but it veered strangely into the author's personal account of a friend and accidental god, then launched into a treatise of English colonialism in India. It became less about the individual men, and there I lost interest. It could have probably been published as three smaller books each with different purposes. DNF. I enjoyed the first section about cargo cults, but it veered strangely into the author's personal account of a friend and accidental god, then launched into a treatise of English colonialism in India. It became less about the individual men, and there I lost interest. It could have probably been published as three smaller books each with different purposes.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nate Hendrix

    I got half way through this book before I gave up. Given the subject matter, it should have been more interesting. I just found I didn't care. The book I recently read about statues that had been torn down should have been less interesting, but I really liked the style of that author. Not the case for this book. I got half way through this book before I gave up. Given the subject matter, it should have been more interesting. I just found I didn't care. The book I recently read about statues that had been torn down should have been less interesting, but I really liked the style of that author. Not the case for this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charles Bookman

    Here be man-gods from Haile Selassie (Jamaica) to Prince Philip (Micronesia) to Donald Trump (US). Author della Subin recounts many man-god stories, delves into the why and how, and even explores how whiteness became a god characteristic in the Americas.

  17. 4 out of 5

    CASPER HILEMAN

    How gods are made. Anna Della Subin, a scholar of the classics as well as religion has introduced a detailed study of how societies around the world have made mortals into deities. Finding commonalities between all of the societies who have done so. Very well done.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Samer Dabit

    7/10

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Devante Tierell

    Great individual stories, went on about a few things I didn’t expect. Overall informative read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farabaugh

    This was an interesting read that did a nice job of showing the nature of modern divinity claims. It did not really come to a larger conclusion but the accounts were interesting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    ale

    *3.5 Beautiful writing style and greatly informative, yet the section that I looked most forward to (Spanish colonization in Latin America) didn't offer new information or ideas that I have already come across. But, here are some of my favorite quotes: "If man imagines that a god resembles himself, then the god, eventually, must die." "In a green lagoon at this beginning, Columbus reported that he killed a serpent. 'I am bringing its skin to Your Highnesses,' he promised Ferdinand and Isabella, off *3.5 Beautiful writing style and greatly informative, yet the section that I looked most forward to (Spanish colonization in Latin America) didn't offer new information or ideas that I have already come across. But, here are some of my favorite quotes: "If man imagines that a god resembles himself, then the god, eventually, must die." "In a green lagoon at this beginning, Columbus reported that he killed a serpent. 'I am bringing its skin to Your Highnesses,' he promised Ferdinand and Isabella, offering a sacrifice of scales. Conquest followed apotheosis: of every island he found, again and again filled with people reportedly mistaking him for divine, the mariner took possession for Spain. He would read an indecipherable declaration and pause for the refusal that could not occur. 'No opposition was offered to me,' Columbus wrote." "The stories of natives mistaking European explorers for deities would become foundational myths of the colonization of the Americas, a way to justify conquest and maintain European supremacy in the fragile settlements. The myths ushered in a new century in which nearly sixty million inhabitants of the New World would be killed, enough to cast a chill across the earth, as the forest crept back over once-inhabited lands, cooling the globe and blanketing Europe in snow. Whiteness was a divinity forged in flesh and blood and language gone astray. The altar was the sand." "Weighing the evidence, Sahagun pointed to the total absence of wheat in the New World as evidence that there had been no prior evangelization. It was impossible to imagine that the Word could have been planted without the grain that was the body of Christ." "In their missionary work, the friars appear preoccupied with the question: How to kill a god? One method was baptism: the friars taught their pupils that when you are submerged under the holy water, the demons clinging to you drown. But water alone was not enough for an execution. The missionaries had to redefine teotl and remake divinity in a moral sense, to sift out the good and strip evil of its sacred status. Their task was to break open the syllables of language itself, so that whatever was hallowed inside would perish."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid

    (Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of Goodreads.) I expected this book to be a series of interesting but unrelated profiles of unintentionally deified individuals. Instead, Subin uses these profiles as a launching point and organizing principle for a wide-ranging examination of religion as it relates to questions of power, colonialism, race, and gender, among other meaty issues. Subin’s writing style is engaging and clear, and she presents her research in a thoroughly (Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of Goodreads.) I expected this book to be a series of interesting but unrelated profiles of unintentionally deified individuals. Instead, Subin uses these profiles as a launching point and organizing principle for a wide-ranging examination of religion as it relates to questions of power, colonialism, race, and gender, among other meaty issues. Subin’s writing style is engaging and clear, and she presents her research in a thoroughly engrossing rather than dry or dense manner. Overall a fascinating read that sets lesser-known religious movements and religion as a whole in a wider social context.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Pait

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

  26. 4 out of 5

    Yariv

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sidney Luckett

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Scherer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jay.Mb

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