Belief, Race, and Nihilism in American Biomedical Science

Feb 22, 2022, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
211 Dickinson Hall



Event Description

Belief, Race, and Nihilism in American Biomedical Science

Biomedical science in the U.S. suffers from a crisis of belief that impairs our ability to recognize the effects of society on our bodies. Biologists remain convinced that genetic traits are responsible for asthma and diabetes among non-whites who live near freeways, diesel death zones, and food deserts. Behavioral scientists have reinvested in the idea that educational achievement is determined largely by one’s biology, not socio-economic status. Physicians in the highest ranks of national medical organizations believe the Hippocratic oath immunizes them from racism. Drawing from his work on the religious and social history of scientific racism, Keel shares his new transdisciplinary study of the American medical examiner-coroner system and explains how disbelief in the biological effects of society pervades one of our nation’s oldest and most important biomedical practices: the science of death investigation. The consequences of this disbelief, which he calls biomedical nihilism, have been devasting for Black and Brown communities who have lost loved ones while in the custody of law enforcement.

Terence Keel is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles where he holds a split appointment in the Department of African American Studies and the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Keel is the Founding Director of the Lab for Biocritical Studies—an interdisciplinary space committed to studying how discrimination, inequality, and resilience are embodied in human and nonhuman life.

His teaching, research, and community engagement are concerned with the social, political, and ethical conditions that produce and abolish discrimination within society. Keel earned a BA in Theology from Xavier of Louisiana, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD from Harvard University. For more information, please visit

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Department of Religion