On July 9, 2011, South Sudan celebrated its independence as the world’s newest nation, an occasion that the country’s Christian leaders claimed had been foretold in the Book of Isaiah. The Bible provided a foundation through which the South Sudanese could distinguish themselves from the Arab and Muslim Sudanese to the north and understand themselves as a spiritual community now freed from their oppressors. Less than three years later, however, new conflicts emerged along ethnic lines within South Sudan, belying the liberation theology that had supposedly reached its climactic conclusion with independence. In Chosen Peoples: Christianity and Political Imagination in South Sudan (Duke UP, 2021), Christopher Tounsel investigates the centrality of Christian worldviews to the ideological construction of South Sudan and the inability of shared religion to prevent conflict. Exploring the creation of a colonial-era mission school to halt Islam’s spread up the Nile, the centrality of biblical language in South Sudanese propaganda during the Second Civil War (1983–2005), and postindependence transformations of religious thought in the face of ethnic warfare, Tounsel highlights the potential and limitations of deploying race and Christian theology to unify South Sudan.

Christopher Tounsel is Catherine Shultz Rein Early Career Professor in the College of the Liberal Arts and Assistant Professor of History and African Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Thomas Zuber is a PhD Candidate in History at Columbia University.

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