Skip to main content

African American Religions: History of Study

AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIONS: HISTORY OF STUDY

The theoretical and analytical foundation of African American religious studies was initially laid by the prophetic voices of New World blacks such as Frederick Douglass (18171895) and David Walker, who put forth critical proclamations that challenged the spiritual integrity of "Christian Americans" while making qualitative distinctions between the "Christianity of this land" and the "Christianity of Christ." The writings of these early scholars reveal the diversity of the black religious experience, providing glimpses into African religious practices (Olaudah Equiano, 1789); the conversion power of the "Voodoo dance" (Alexander Payne, 1886); the potency of rootwork and conjure (Frederick Douglass, 1845; Henry Bibb, 1849); the liberatory praxis of black religion (Nat Turner, 1831); the exigency of black religious institutions (Richard Allen, 1833; Jarena Lee, 1836; Christopher Rush, 1843; George Liele, 1790; Andrew Bryan, 1800; Lucius Holsey, 1898); the efficacy of Islam (Job ben Solomon, Mohammed Ali ben Said, Abdul Rahahman, Edward Blyden, 1888); and the religious revaluation of Africa (Alexander Crummell, 1862; Henry McNeal Turner, 1895). These early leaders and thinkers and their writings provided the scholastic rudiments for future studies and interrogations of the complexity, plurality, and vitality of African American religious life.

W. E. B. Du Bois and the Study of African American Religion

At the beginning of the twentieth century the study of African American religion advanced with greater precision as early black thinkers employed the scholarly tools of historical, sociological, and ethnographic methods. At the forefront of these new interdisciplinary approaches was W. E. B. Du Bois (18681963) and his 1903 publications The Souls of Black Folk and The Negro Church. These groundbreaking works insightfully placed the birth, evolution, and institutionalization of black religion in direct conversation with questions of primordial origins, religious evolution, and the sociological impact of race and urbanization. Du Bois's The Negro Church was the first to examine the institution of religion as a valid subject for sociological investigation. Methodologically, Du Bois engaged in both qualitative and quantitative research and conducted interviews, surveys, questionnaires and participant observation. In both The Negro Church and The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois undertook the empirical study of black religion as it related to the comprehensive constituents of black lifeinstitutional, political, historical, economic, and aesthetic.

Initially published as a separate essay in 1900, the chapter "Of the Faith of the Fathers" in The Souls of Black Folk proffered a nascent theorization of black religion. In this essay, Du Bois documented three salient characterizations of African American religion "the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy"derived from the encounter between Africa and the American slave experience. Du Bois's famous tri-categorization of black religion explored the complex dimensions of black religious leadership; the authenticity of black musical expression; and black somatic experiences with the transcendent. Du Bois positioned himself in these early works as the modern progenitor of intellectual discourses on African retentions, origins, and survivals. Preceding the Melville HerskovitsE. Franklin Frazier debate by several decades, it was Du Bois who first wrestled with scholarly questions of African primordialism and New World religious transformation. For authoring some of the earliest systematic discussions of "voodooism," "obeah," and "hoodoo," Du Bois stands as the forerunner for what would later become the study of African-derived religions in the United States and the Caribbean. More specifically, he provided an etymological explication of the practice of obi in the West Indies, arguing on behalf of its "African origin" and its possible connection to the Egyptian notion of ob, or divining serpent. Contemporary scholars of black religion often stress Du Bois's assertion that "the Negro church of to-day is the social centre of Negro life in the United States," while giving short shrift to his equally important claim at the end of the same sentence, that it is also "the most characteristic expression of African character" (Du Bois, 1903). The cost of this oversight to the field of black religion was that the church has been privileged as the totalizing symbol of African American religious life, and that issues of religious diversity and alternative religious meanings have been devalued.

Du Bois posited cogent categories of black religiosity that simultaneously oscillated from the African religious heritage of the slaves to their transformative innovations in the black church. A close reading of The Negro Church and The Souls of Black Folk reveals Du Bois's dual conception of the "Negro Church." Led by a "Negro Preacher" descended from African priests and medicine men, according to Du Bois the Negro Church among the enslaved "was not at first by any means Christian rather it was an adaptation and mingling of heathen rites among the members of each plantation, and roughly designated as Voodooism." In his works Du Bois affirmed the intricate relationship between black religious identity in the United States and its parent traditions of Africa. Moreover, he ultimately critiqued the European categorical construction of fetishism and argued in his later works that it was "invented as a symbol of African religion" in order to reinforce the "idea of the 'barbarous Negro'"

The Negro Church

More monographs that dealt with the Negro Church followed Du Bois's, but many of them lacked the nuanced complexities and keen analytical insights of the pioneering works. Still, crucially valid in their own right, historical and sociological studies of religion such as Carter G. Woodson's The History of the Negro Church (1921) and The Rural Negro (1930) and Benjamin Elijah Mays and Joseph Nicholson's The Negro's Church (1933) stand as premier works in African American ecclesiology. An historian trained in social science method, Woodson provided an overview of the major denominations of the Negro Church and analyzed their development in rural and urban contexts. Along similar lines, Mays and Nicholson's The Negro's Church, which was commissioned by the Institute of Social and Religious Research, was a comprehensive study of 794 urban and rural churches in the early 1930s. The authors utilized ethnographic fieldwork and sociological method to examine the internal dynamics of Negro church life as it related to ministry, worship, economy, politics, and demography.

For the next thirty years, black religion and social demographic issues continued to be an important focus for scholarly study. Heralded as one of the earliest studies in urban American ethnography, Arthur Huff Fauset's Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults in the Urban North (1944) expanded the parameters of Negro Church studies to include such religious movements as the Father Divine Peace Mission, Bishop Grace's United House of Prayer for All People, and Ida Robinson's Mount Sinai Holy Church of America, as well as Muslim and Jewish sects such as the Church of God and Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science Temple. Published a year after Fauset's work and funded by the Works Progress Administration, Saint Clair Drake and Horace Cayton's Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945) examined black churches in Chicago as they negotiated the social challenges of urbanization, leadership, criminal delinquency, racial discrimination, and social class. More recent studies of religion and urbanization include Milton Sernett's Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration (1997), James Anthony Noel's dissertation "Search for Zion: A Social-Historical Study of African American Religious Life and Church Culture in Marin City, California from the Migration Period to the Present, 19421996" (1999), and Wallace Best's forthcoming book Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 19151952.

Published posthumously, and nearly twenty years after Drake and Cayton, E. Franklin Frazier's The Negro Church in America (1964) continued the sociological study of the Negro Church in the northern United States, adding an extensive discussion of the loss of both an "African cultural heritage" and a structured "social cohesion," which Frazier argued was eventually reconstituted in the institutional Negro Church. The roots of Frazier's arguments were foreshadowed in his earlier texts, The Negro Family in the United States (1939) and The Negro in the United States (1949), and were highly contested by Melville Herskovits. Often reduced to a debate in the historiography, Herskovits and Frazier were both arguing against natural and social scientific theories of innate black inferiority and social deviance. However, their responses were different. Frazier attributed black social anomalies and cultural distance from Africa to the dehumanization caused by slavery and racism. Herskovits, on the other hand, disputed notions of black racial inferiority with theories of cultural continuity between African Americans and a sophisticated African heritage.

For many social scientists, including Frazier, the sociological study of black religion centered largely around the University of Chicago and stressed the primacy of institutions, social structure, and social organization as the basis of their analytical conceptions. However, as social scientists rather than trained religionists, their conclusive findings were often drawn at the expense of religious fluidity, theological complexity, and religious meaning.

The Black Church

After Frazier, studies of the Negro Church continued as a viable area of inquiry, eventually becoming black church studies. The works of C. Eric Lincoln and others have made important strides in sustaining the broad analytical category of the "black church." Some the these studies include Hart Nelson's The Black Church in America (1971) and The Black Church in the Sixties (1975); Dolores Lefall's The Black Church: An Annotated Bibliography (1973); C. Eric Lincoln's The Black Since Frazier (1974); Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya's The Black Church in the African American Experience (1990); Ida Mukenge's The Black Church in Urban America (1983); William Montgomery's Under their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African American Church in the South, 18651900 (1993); Clarence Taylor's The Black Churches of Brooklyn (1994); Andrew Billingsley's Mighty Like a River: The Black Church and Social Reform (1999); Janet Cornelius's Slave Missions and the Black Church (1999); Clyde McQueen's Black Churches in Texas (2000); Anthony Pinn's The Black Church in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2002); and R. Drew Smith's New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America (2003).

A major thematic strand that runs through much of black church historiography is Ethiopianism. Ethiopianism was largely predicated on identifying African Americans with the biblical prophecy of Psalms 68:31: "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God." In much of the literature on Ethiopianism, Africa symbolizes for African Americans what Charles Long calls "the religious revalorization of the land," the source of "historical beginnings," and the place of "authenticated" humanity. For rich primary and secondary sources on Ethiopianism see the multiple volumes of Marcus Garvey's writings edited by Amy Jacques Garvey, John Henrick Clarke, Tony Martin, and Robert Hill. Also quite useful is Randall Burkett's Garveyism as a Religious Movement (1978). In addition, see St. Clair Drake's The Redemption of Africa and Black Religion (1970); the excellent explications of Alexander Crummell and Edward Blyden in Josiah Young's A Pan-African Theology (1992); Wilson Jeremiah Moses's The Golden Age of Black Nationalism (1978) and Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms (1982); and Edwin Redkey's Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back to Africa Movements 18901910 (1969).

An additional subcategory of black church studies has been denominational histories that seek to shed light on the diversity of black Christian religiosity. For examples of these studies see Daniel Payne, History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1891, 1922); J.W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1895); David Bradley, The History of the A.M.E. Zion Church (1956); Mechal Sobel, Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith (1979); David Wills and Richard Newman, Black Apostles at Home and Abroad: Afro-Americans and the Christian Mission from the Revolution to Reconstruction (1982); Hans Baer, The Black Spiritual Movement (1984); Leroy Fitts, A History of Black Baptists (1985); James Melvin Washington, Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power (1986); Cyprian Davis, The History of the Black Catholics in the United States (1990); Claude Jacobs, The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans (1991); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church 18801920 (1993); Walter F. Pitts, Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora (1993); Cheryl Sanders, Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996); Gardiner Shattuck, Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights (2000); Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, "If It Wasn't for the Women": Black Women's Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community (2001); Jualynne Dodson, Engendering Church: Women, Power, and the AME Church (2002); and Raymond Sommerville, Jr., An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the C.M.E. Church 18701970 (2004).

Finally, although many scholars find the denominational and "black church" approaches useful to the study of African American religion, others contend that while these categories lead to important understandings of black Christian formation, they often run the risk of obfuscating black religious variety. Important essays that complicate and interrogate the denominational approach to the study of religion include Charles Long's "The Question of Denominational Histories in the United States: Dead End or Creative Beginning?"; Nancy T. Ammerman's, "Denominations: Who and What are We Studying?"; and Laurie Maffly-Kipp's "Denominationalism and the Black Church," all of which are included in Robert Bruce Mullin and Russell Richey's Reimagining Denominationalism: Interpretive Essays (1994).

African American Religion: A Social Science Perspective

Since the late 1920s social science scholars dominated the area of study currently known as African-derived traditions. At the forefront of these studies were noted anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits and affiliates of the Northwestern School. As the first department chair in African Studies at a U.S. university, Herskovits, along with other well-known social scientists such as William Bascom, George Eaton Simpson, Swiss scholar Alfred Metraux, and French scholar Roger Bastide, devoted their scholarly careers to the study of "syncretic cults" throughout the New World, simultaneously cultivating new theoretical paradigms of syncretism. More importantly, among them were some of the first scholars to engage in ethnographic research on the continent of Africa as a systematic way of exploring the African antecedents of the New World. This group of distinguished social science scholars produced an impressive collection of works. Leading the way was the publication of Herskovits's life-long fieldwork throughout Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean, starting with his two-volume Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom (1938) and continuing with Acculturation: The Study of Culture Contact (1938); Myth of the Negro Past (1941); Rebel Destiny: Among the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana ; Life in a Haitian Valley (1937); Trinidad Village (1947); and Franz Boas: The Science of Man in the Making (1953).

Furthering the tradition of Herskovits were the works of many of his prominent students, including, by William Bascom, The Sociological Role of the Yoruba-Cult Group (1944), The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria (1969), an early sound recording entitled Drums of the Yoruba of Nigeria (1953), Continuity and Change in African Cultures (coedited with Melville Herskovits, 1962), Ifa Divination (1969), Shango in the New World (1972), and Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World (1980); and, by Daniel Crowley, I Could Talk Old-Story Good: Creativity in Bahamas Folklore (1966) and African Folklore in the New World ; and Johnnetta Cole's Traditional and Wage-Earning Labor Among Tribal Liberians (1967) and Race Toward Equality: The End of Racial Discrimination in Cuba (1978).

While on a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Science Research Council, George Eaton Simpson studied with Herskovits from 1936 to 1937. Simpson is cited as the first researcher to undertake the scholarly study of Jamaican Rastafari, "Pocomania," and "Revival Zion," which he detailed in his "Personal Reflections on Rastafari in West Kingston in the Early 1950s." In addition to Jamaica, Simpson conducted extensive fieldwork in Haiti, Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Nigeria, resulting in the following publications: The Shango Cult in Trinidad (1965); Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica, and Haiti (1970); Black Religions in the New World (1978); and Melville J. Herskovits (1973), which examined the theoretical and methodological contributions of the late anthropologist. Translated from French in the 1960s and 1970s, the works of Roger Bastide and Alfred Metraux have also made an enormous contribution to the study of African-derived traditions in the New World. Originally published in Paris in 1960, Bastide's The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations documented Afro-Brazilian religions such as Catimbo, Xango, Candomblé, Macumba, Umbanda, and Batuques. In addition, Bastide published Le Candomblé de Bahia (1958) and African Civilizations in the New World, translated in 1971. Also essential were Alfred Metraux's Voodoo in Haiti, translated in 1959, and his collection of photos, Haiti: Black Peasants and Voodoo, compiled with Pierre Verger.

The Hidden Voices of Women: Hurston, Dunham, Deren, and the Study of African Diasporic Religions

Neglected within most historiographical literature is the fact that as early as the 1930s, women scholars have been at the forefront of expanding the study of African American religion. As trailblazers in the field of African-derived religions, Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham, and Maya Deren excavated the historically maligned traditions of Africa practiced throughout the United States and the Caribbean, and engaged them in their publications as legitimate subjects for scholarly reflection. Combining ethnography and the arts, Hurston, Dunham, and Deren rescued the study of vodou and hoodoo from the nefarious categories of African magic and sorcery, and instead represented them as sophisticated religious and philosophical systems of thought with complex ritual integrity. Also informing their exceptional studies were their unique positions as "scholar-practitioners" who were able to engage their subject matter both as skilled ethnographers and as initiates within their respective vodou traditions. With strong support and encouragement from her mentor Franz Boas at Columbia University, Hurston embarked on ethnographic fieldwork throughout Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida, collecting folklore, tales, idioms, songs, and vodou rituals, which culminated in the 1935 publication of Mules and Men. In 1936 Hurston received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship to study West Indian practices which she called "Pocomania," "African obeah," and "voodoo." Her Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Jamaica and Haiti (1938) is one of the earliest collections of photographic images, transcribed vodou songs, sacred drum rhythms, representations of spirit possession, and thick descriptions of vodou ritual ceremonies. As Ishmael Reed points out in the foreword, Tell My Horse is "more than a Voodoo work" in that Hurston "writes intelligently about the botany, sociology, anthropology, geology, and politics of these nations" Moreover, in Tell My Horse Hurston provided a foundation for trance-possession theory as well as for a distinct gender analysis of Caribbean and American women. In a similar vein, after acquiring special field training from Melville Herskovits and receiving a Rosenwald Fellowship to study "primitive dance and ritual" in the West Indies and Brazil in 1936, renowned choreographer Katherine Dunham traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, and Martinique, documenting the sacred ritual dances of African diasporic communities. The fieldwork resulted in her seminal texts Journey to Accompong (1946), The Dances of Haiti (1947), and Island Possessed (1969). Like Hurston and Dunham, Maya Deren is another of the early female contributors to the scholarly study of Haitian vodou. Combining the methodological tools of filmmaking and ethnography, Deren explored the intricate world of Haitian vodou, documenting its clandestine sacred rituals in more than 18,000 feet of film footage over the course of seven years. Her interest in Haitian vodou was greatly inspired by her tours and travels with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. In 1947 she received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which led to the publication of Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1953). Her footage, produced under the same name, became the first depiction of Haitian vodou ritual and possession on film. Ultimately, the interdisciplinary work of Deren, Hurston, and Dunham forged the way for later female theorists of trance-possession such as Sheila Walker (Ceremonial Spirit Possession in Africa and Afro-America: Forms, Meanings and Functional Significance for Individual and Social Groups, 1972) and Herskovits-trained Erika Bourguignon (Trance Dance, 1968 and Possession, 1976).

Studies in "Slave Religion"

The study of African-derived syncretic cults throughout the Americas and the Caribbean by early male and female scholars helped in many ways to complicate and to advance future scholarly studies of "slave religion." Their archival legacies of film footage, photographs, sound recordings, crude musical scores, detailed ritual documentation, ceremonial recordings, etymological speculations, and comparative methods challenged prospective scholars in the field to avoid reducing the complexities of slave religion to binary debates on retentions, and to undertake instead careful studies of religious practice, ethnicity, population distribution of enslaved Africans, linguistics, ritual, culture, orientation, and meaning. Several scholars of the slave period who attempted this approach were Melville Herskovits in The Myth of the Negro Past (1941); Lorenzo Turner in Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949); Lawrence Levine in Black Culture and Black Consciousness (1977); Albert Raboteau in Slave Religion (1978); Vincent Harding in There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (1983); Sterling Stuckey in Slave Culture (1987); Margaret Washington Creel in "A Peculiar People ": Slave Religion and Community-Culture Among the Gullahs (1988); Mechal Sobel in Trabelin' On (1988); Joseph Holloway in Africanisms in American Culture (1990); and Sylvia Frey in Water From the Rock (1991). Other useful monographs and theoretical perspectives on slavery include John Blassingame, The Slave Community (1972); Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (1972); Peter Wood, Black Majority (1974); Leon Higginbotham, In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period (1978); Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (1982); and William Piersen, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (1988). Recent scholars have also given greater texture and specificity to the study of slave religion by utilizing the primary resources of slave narratives and testimonials. Voices of the formerly enslaved can be found in collections such as B.A. Botkin, Lay My Burden Down (1945); Frederick Ramsey, Jr., Been Here and Gone (1960); Clifton Johnson, God Struck Me Dead (1969); John Blassingame, Slave Testimony (1977); John Gwaltney, Drylongso (1980); James Mellon, Bullwhip Days (1988); Donna Wyant Howell, I Was a Slave (1995); and Ira Berlin, Remembering Slavery (1998).

Existing alongside studies of slave religion have been important works that explore the intersecting boundaries of slavery, religion, and music. For further study in this area see W. E. B. Du Bois, "Of the Sorrow Songs" (1903); James Weldon Johnson, The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925) and The Second Book of Negro Spirituals (1926); Zora Neale Hurston, The Sanctified Church (1981); Miles Mark Fisher, Negro Slave Songs in the United States (1953); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans (1971); John Lovell, Jr., Black Song: The Forge and the Crucible (1972); Morton Marks, "Uncovering Ritual Structures in Afro-American Music," (1974); Jon Michael Spencer, Black Hymnody: A Hymnological History of the African American Church (1992); Cheryl Kirk Duggan, African American Spirituals (1993); James Abbington, Readings in African American Church Music and Culture (2001); and Bernice Johnson Reagon, If You Don't Go, Don't Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Song Tradition (2001).

Expanded Studies of Black Religion and the Influence of Black Theological Discourse

As scholars outside of the field of religion expanded the corpus on African religious cultures in the diaspora, those within the fields of religious and theological studies began to author texts that gave genuine content to the term Black religion within the boundaries of the United States. Within the context of black male-dominated political movements of the 1950s and 1960s, new studies on black religious radicalism and militancy emerged that complemented other scholarship within the broader field of African American studies.

Broadening the corpus to include research on non-Christian traditions, C. Eric Lincoln and Joseph Washington contributed significantly to studies of black "sects and cults." C. Eric Lincoln's dissertation on the Nation of Islam was published as Black Muslims in America (1961). Joseph Washington authored and edited several texts that compassed diversified permutations of black religion with attention to race, social power, and theological formation, including Black Religion: The Negro and Christianity in the United States (1964), Black Sects and Cults (1972) and Jews in Black Perspective (1984). Both authors gave attention to black religion as a sociopolitical phenomenon. Their studies also contested the categorical association of black religious cultures with aberrancy, pathology, or social deviancy. Lincoln accomplished this by situating the Nation of Islam within its historical context and by assessing its social influence and appeal through the lenses of gender and class. Washington engaged in similar analysis with reference to his treatments of black Islamic and Jewish movements as well as marginalized traditions of Christian persuasion, such as Holiness and Pentecostal churches, black Spiritualists, and the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Washington's most provocative text, Black Religion: The Negro and Christianity in the United States, interpreted black Christianity as a social protest movement lacking a sophisticated tradition of theological reflection, and he blamed white Christian institutions for this apparent deficiency. Washington's interpretation of black Christianity incited a considerable response from religious and theological scholars.

By the late 1960s African American theological scholars began to shape a new school of thought called black liberation theology. Among them were thinkers who wanted to discount Washington's representation of black Christianity. They also elevated his argument against white Christianity by exposing the racism in its theology and practice. James Cone, the most radical voice among them, pioneered this scholarly project with his texts Black Theology and Black Power (1969) and A Black Theology of Liberation (1970). In these and subsequent works, Cone deconstructed the racist ideological underpinnings of dominant European and white American theological traditions while proposing a contextual rendering of theology informed by six major sources: (1) black experience, (2) black history, (3) black culture, (4) scripture, (5) revelation, and (6) tradition. J. Deotis Roberts, Cecil Cone, Gayraud Wilmore, and Major Jones joined the conversation, each offering a distinctly nuanced interpretation of the connection between black religion and black theology. The conceptual shades of difference in their scholarship would become apparent as black theologians and scholars of religion engaged in forthright discussions about theory and method.

During the 1970s a prolific debate generated comparable scholarship concerning the appropriate aims, sources, approaches, and interpretations of black liberation theology. Three major concerns emerged as themes in solidifying the conceptual and prophetic tasks of black theology: (1) liberation, reconciliation, and violence, (2) black theology, black religion, and the African heritage, and (3) black theology and black suffering. The preoccupation with liberation, reconciliation, and violence derived primarily from a discussion between Cone and J. Deotis Roberts. In Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology (1971), Roberts argued that black theology, as a Christian theology, had to include a mature ethic of reconciliation that would account for the imperatives of liberation praxis. Cone was not convinced that this directive was possible before giving extensive attention to the relationship between racial justice, social power, and liberation for African Americans. Writing in the shadow of the assassinations of civil rights leaders and black social unrest in urban centers across the United States, Cone was uncompromising in his willingness to entertain militant social resistance in African American struggles for justice. As many white American religious thinkers and clergy solicited support from black colleagues in decrying the Black Power movement, Cone and other black theologians resisted such cooptation by identifying the imperatives of the Black Power movement with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cone in particular anticipated that a black theology of nonviolence ran the risk of being appropriated to conceal white racist theological hypocrisy and irresponsibility during an era when brutal racial violence against both nonviolent and militant black activists remained unchecked in white American theological discourse.

Roberts's scholarly contribution is not limited to his ethical imperative of liberation and reconciliation. His extensive corpus indicates a trajectory of scholarly reflection on philosophical theology prior to the formation of academic black theology. In addition, while we might be hard pressed to find substantive data on African contributions to slave religion in Cone's works, Roberts tangentially argued for the import of African religious and philosophical concepts to black theological discourse. This locates Roberts within the conceptual vicinity of scholars such as Gayraud Wilmore, Cecil Cone, and Charles Long on the question of the relationship between black religion and black theology.

The conversation about black religion emerged from a larger discussion among black theologians and scholars of religion, where the parameters of black theological method were tested against the data of black religious experience. In his seminal text Black Religion and Black Radicalism (1972) Gayraud Wilmore argued for the expansion of black theological sources to incorporate black folk religion and classical African religions. Wilmore traces the principle of black religious radicalism across diverse black religious cultures and social movements, arguing that when black radicalism waned in the established black Christian churches, it was harnessed in other religious and political institutions such as the Nation of Islam, Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association, and Black Power organizations and initiatives. Wilmore further raised the question of whether black theology, especially as articulated by James Cone, was ostensibly the "Blackenization" of white theology. In Identity Crisis in Black Theology (1975) Cecil Cone answered that question in the affirmative as he criticized his predecessors for premising their works upon Western European doctrinal categories as opposed to organic structures of black religious experience.

Charles Long, the sole historian of religion to enter the dialogue, redefined the discussion when he questioned the merits of the entire theological project as one that ultimately belies authentic features and contents of black religion. Long argued that the suppositional starting point of black theology could never equip scholars with the apposite tools for theorizing about the nature of black religion because many of its dimensions remain outside of the domain of established Christianity (extrachurch). In several essays that were subsequently published in Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion (1986), Long made the compelling case for interrogating African American religious formation within the "terror of history," suggesting three conceptual and methodological foci: (1) Africa as historical reality and religious image; (2) the involuntary presence of the black community in America; and (3) the experience and symbol of God and religious experience of blacks. Long's distinct contribution was a sophisticated analysis of attenuated facets of African American religion in black cultural forms, expressions, behaviors, modalities, and meanings such as black music, dance, culinary traditions, bodily memory, and approaches to land and water. Long called on scholars to decode these and other dimensions of black experience as germane sites of religious significations.

Black theologians were apt to talk about the justice of the Christian God and the freedom guaranteed through Jesus the Black Christ of liberation. Long, however, considered the motifs of justice and liberation within a more scrupulous exploration of how alternative symbols and experiences, such as Africa and the Atlantic, convey similar religious meanings of freedom, struggle, and divine Otherness in black experience. Black theological claims about justice and liberation proved especially unconvincing to the black humanist philosopher William Jones. In his text Is God a White Racist: A Preamble to Black Theology (1973) Jones identified incongruities in the theodicies of influential black theologians, and concluded that their arguments for a God of the oppressed were seriously flawed in the face of historical and collective experiential data concerning the racial subjugation and dehumanization of blacks in America. Taking this data seriously, Cornel West engaged in rigorous analyses of the systemic impoverishment plaguing African American communities. His article "Black Theology and Marxist Thought" distinctly exposed the superficial attention given to class stratification in black theology, and serves as a concise example of his approach to social criticism and liberation discourse.

Cone attempted responses to Jones, Long, Cecil Cone, Wilmore, Roberts, West, and other critics in subsequent texts and articles. Nevertheless, the early debate in black theological and religious studies is echoed in the arguments and subjects of study embraced by succeeding generations of scholars. In A Pan African Theology: Providence and the Legacies of the Ancestors (1992), Cone's student Josiah Young placed African religious cultures and political philosophy at the center of his reflections on Black Nationalism. He also reconceived black religious radicalism and prophetic theology within a distilled analysis of the methodological and theoretical discrepancies between Cone's and Long's approaches to black religion. Since Essien Udosen Essien-Udom's, Edwin Redkey's and Gayraud Wilmore's launching of the study of black religious nationalism, Young and others such as Wilson J. Moses, Edwin Redkey, Eddie Glaude, Elias Farajaje-Jones, and Tracey Hucks have broadened our understanding of this phenomenon across diverse religious traditions in the African diaspora. Although these works largely engage expressions of nationalism within black Christianity and Islam, Hucks's text Approaching the African God: History, Textuality, and the Re-Ownership of Africa in the African American Yoruba Movement (2005) distinctly treats the construal of black Nationalism within an African-derived religious context.

Other scholars have revisited important themes and introduced new theoretical treatments of black religion and black identity. Anthony Pinn's black humanist texts Why Lord: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology (1995) and Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering: A History of Theodicy in African American Religious Thought (2002), and Victor Anderson's Beyond Ontological Blackness: An Essay on African American Religious and Cultural Criticism (1995) forwarded closer scrutiny of unsupported assumptions about theodicy and black suffering (Pinn) and the conceptual framing of "Black experience" (Anderson) in the black theological project.

Womanist Religious Thought

During the late 1980s womanist scholars began introducing new methodological and theoretical priorities through their approaches to black women's religious experience. Pioneer scholars Katie Cannon (Black Womanist Ethics, 1988), Jacquelyn Grant (White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response, 1989) and Renita Weems (Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women's Relationships in the Bible, 1988) established criteria for research that would consider the multidimensional oppression of black women in theological, ethical, and biblical studies.

Since the 1980s the womanist school of thought has generated a prolific corpus of reflection around intersectional analysis of race, gender, class, culture, and sexuality. This includes radical departures from theological doctrines and categories of analysis (Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, 1993, Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, 1999, and JoAnne Terrell, Power in the Blood: The Cross in the African American Experience, 1998); studies of prominent black female leaders and black women's praxis traditions with attention to their religious, ethical, and theological import (Marcia Riggs, Toward a Mediating Ethic for Black Liberation: Ethical Insights of Black Female Reformers of the Nineteenth Century, 1999, and Rosetta Ross, Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights, 2003); studies of literature, music, and folk traditions (Cheryl Kirk Duggan, Exorcising Evil: A Womanist Perspective on the Spirituals, 1997); ethics, public policy, and social reform (Emilie Townes, Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care, and Joan Martin, More than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women, 2000); focused studies of intimate violence and abuse (Traci West, Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics, 1999); expansion of womanist theology to include analyses of African-derived traditions (Dianne Stewart, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience, 2004); and collaborative texts on the motifs of suffering and hope (Emilie Townes, A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering, 1993, and Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation, 1997). Indispensable contributions from Catholic womanist thinkers include Toinette Eugene, "Moral Values and Black Womanists" (1988); M. Shawn Copeland, "Wading Through Many Sorrows: Toward a Theology of Suffering in Womanist Perspective" (1993); and Diana Hayes, Hagar's Daughters: Womanist Ways of Being in the World (1999). Scholars such as Cheryl Townsend Gilkes and Linda Thomas have also bridged theoretical and methodological gaps between womanist religious thought and the social sciences. Collectively, womanist scholars have adopted and contributed innovative feminist analytical strategies that challenge the erasure of black women in the intellectual canons across the disciplines and that also contest the trivialization of women's studies research, its epistemological foundations, and theoretical frameworks.

Seminal Anthologies and Documentary Histories

Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, African American religious studies has reached a point of intellectual maturity, marked by its ability to generate several seminal anthologies in black religious and theological studies. Milton Sernett's Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (1985) was the first comprehensive volume to assemble original writings of pivotal black religious thinkers and leaders in the United States from the 1790s to the 1970s. Anthony Pinn also edited By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism (2001), which gave visibility to black humanist perspectives as a category of religious thought.

James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore's widely referenced volumes of Black Theology: A Documentary History chronicle the historical development of black theological studies from its nascent articulation within theologically inspired political organizations during the mid 1960s to scholarly treatments of black theology in academic discourse from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Gayraud Wilmore's African American Religious Studies: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (1989) addresses theological studies methods and subject areas across several domains of scholarship in black Christian studies, including biblical studies, pastoral, historical and systematic theology, and ethics. Albert Raboteau and Timothy Fulop's African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture (1997) and Cornel West and Eddie Glaude's collection African American Religious Thought (2003) cover broader interdisciplinary approaches and subjects in African American religious studies. Marcia Riggs's volume Can I Get a Witness?: Prophetic Religious Voices of African American Women, an Anthology (1997) interrupts the conventional pattern of associating African American public leadership with the masculine persona.

The history of African American religious studies also encompasses authored and edited volumes on influential black religious personalities. This genre includes multidisciplinary treatments of figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (James Washington, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1986; Lewis Baldwin, To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1992; Michael Dyson, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., 2000); Howard Thurman (Alton Pollard, Mysticism and Social Change: The Social Witness of Howard Thurman, 1992); Anna Julia Cooper (Karen Baker-Fletcher, A Singing Something: Womanist Reflections on Anna Julia Cooper, 1994); Amanda Berry Smith (Adrienne Israel, Amanda Berry Smith: From Washerwoman to Evangelist, 1998); Theophilus G. Steward (Albert G. Miller, Elevating the Race: Theophilus G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 18651924, 2003); Reverdy Ransom (Anthony Pinn, Making the Gospel Plain: The Writings of Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom, 1998); and Malcolm X (Michael Dyson, Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, 1995).

Comparative studies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King by James Cone (Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, 1991) and of Howard Thurman and James Cone by Carlyle Stewart (God, Being, and Liberation: A Comparative Analysis of the Theologies and Ethics of James H. Cone and Howard Thurman, 1989) also address sites of intellectual correspondences among salient scholars and figures. Collectively, these volumes elucidate the religious significance of these definitive personalities within U.S. society and the import of their intellectual legacies to the study of African American religion and to the wider academy.

African American Religion and Approaches to Sacred Texts

The evolution of textual studies in black religion has mirrored the expansive trend in the broader field. In the arena of Christian theological studies biblical scholars have worked collaboratively and independently on themes including Africa and racial and ethnic identity, slavery, gender, power, justice, and liberation. Formidable scholars have interrogated these and other motifs in critical articles and texts that challenged established methods and theoretical assumptions in the wider field of biblical studies. These include contributions from thinkers such as Cain Hope Felder, Randall Bailey, Renita Weems, Vincent Wimbush, Clarice Martin, Allen Callahan, Demetrius Williams, and Gay Byron. Robert Hood combined his training in New Testament study with cultural criticism and theological inquiry to conduct studies of early Christianity, especially the hellenization of Christianity, in Must God Remain Greek?: Afro Culture and God-Talk (1974), and of anti-blackness in Christian literature and the history of Christian thought (Begrimed and Black: Christian Traditions on Blacks and Blackness, 1994).

Vincent Wimbush's concentration on the Bible in African American religious cultures and his extensive edited volume African Americans and the Bible: Sacred Texts and Social Textures (2000) represent a new expansive current in African American biblical studies. Wimbush's project sponsors and engages interdisciplinary research on biblical studies and cultural studies as they relate to African American religious communities. New studies hopefully will augur a broader conversation among scholars of sacred texts across diverse African American religions. This kind of initiative would involve biblical scholars as well as scholars studying ancient African texts of relevance to African American religious communities. Wande Abimbola's Ifá: An Exposition of Ifá Literary Corpus (1976), already widely referenced among Yoruba religious practitioners, would be central to such a discussion. as would Maulana Karenga's works on the Husia, especially Selections from the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt (1984) and his more recent interpretation of Yoruba sacred texts, Odu Ifá: The Ethical Teachings (1999).

New Trends and Currents in African American Religious Studies

Since the last two decades of the twentieth century, scholars have been proposing new categories of research and new approaches to established research areas. Two growing rubrics of scholarship concern black religious diversity and black religion, aesthetics, and popular culture, and books and articles on black folk religion and African religious cultures in the diaspora have been published at an increasing rate. These include contributions from Theophus Smith, Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America (1994); Donald Matthews, Honoring the Ancestors: An African Cultural Interpretation of Black Religion and Literature (1997); Peter Paris, The Spirituality of African People: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse (1995); Joseph Murphy, Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora (1994); George Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories (1993); Jacob Olupona, African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings, and Expressions (2000); and Elias Farajaje-Jones and Kortright Davis, African Creative Expressions of the Divine (1991). Salim Faraji's article "Walking Back to Go Forward" is particularly important because it examines the Kemetic deity Heru (Horus) as an important symbol of black religious pluralism and liberation praxis, and it is distinctive in connecting liberation theology to Egyptian-inspired African American religious movements.

Women especially have advanced scholarly knowledge of the breadth and influence of these orientations through archival and ethnographic studies as well as through international research. Among their published findings are Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (2003); Rachel Harding, A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness (2000); Tracey Hucks, Approaching the African God: History, Textuality, and the Re-Ownership of Africa in the African American Yoruba Movement (2005); Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (1991); Jualynne Dodson's forthcoming book, Sacred Spaces: Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba (2005); Kamari Clarke, Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities (2004); Elizabeth McAlister, Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora (2002); and Dianne Stewart, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (2004).

Studies of African American experiences with Islam and Judaism are also enhancing scholarly interpretations of black religious formation from slavery to the present time. Although it could be argued that the nineteenth-century writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden inaugurated a serious discussion of Islam within black religious thought, a constellation of interdisciplinary scholarly works are helping to contextualize African American Islamic traditions with greater clarity and specification. Significant contributions include Allan Austin's African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Source Book (1984); Richard Brent Turner's Islam in the African American Experience (1997); Michael Gomez's Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (1998); Aminah Beverly McCloud's African American Islam (1995); and Lawrence Mamiya's "Islam in America: Problems of Legacy, Identity, Cooperation, and Conflict among African American and Immigrant Muslims" (1993). Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism (2000), edited by Yvonne Chireau and Nathaniel Deutsch, is also an indispensable contribution to the scholarship on African American religious traditions.

Within the area of black religion, aesthetics, and popular culture, Michael Dyson has authored several texts, including Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture (1996); Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (2001); and Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye (2004). Other contributors to this emerging conversation among scholars of religion include Anthony Pinn (Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music, 2003) and Judith Weisenfeld, who has written several pieces on religion and black representation in film, including "'My Story Begins Before I was Born': Myth, History, and Power in Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust " (2003) and "For Rent, 'Cabin in the Sky': Race, Religion, and Representational Quagmires in American Film" (2003).

Bibliography

For a comprehensive overview of slave religion and slave culture see Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York, 1978); Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundation of Black America (New York, 1987); Eugene Genovese, "Book Two: The Rock and the Church" in his Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974); and Vincent Harding, There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (New York, 1981). For a more concise version of the religious history of African Americans see Albert Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History (Boston, 1995). A discussion of the relationship between black enslavement and black music can be found in Miles Mark Fisher, Negro Slave Songs in the United States (New York, 1953) and in John Lovell, Black Song: The Forge and the Flame: The Story of How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out (New York, 1972). Two texts that attempt to explore the complexities of slave ethnicity and culture are Lorenzo Dow Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (Chicago, 1949) and Margaret Washington Creel, "A Peculiar People ": Slave Religion and Community-Culture Among the Gullahs (New York, 1988). Important primary sources that document the experiences and narratives of former slaves include John Blassingame, Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge, La., 1977); Ira Berlin, Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk about their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom (New York, 1998); and James Mellon, Bullwhip Days: The Slave Remembers (New York, 1988). For insight on the intellectual debates concerning African retentions and survivals during the slave period see Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (New York, 1941); E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church in America (New York, 1974); "The Debate" in Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York, 1978); and Joseph Holloway, Africanisms in American Culture (Bloomington, Ind., 1990).

Three monographs of African American churches in the early twentieth century remain classics: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negro Church (Atlanta, 1903) and "Of the Faith of the Fathers" in The Souls of Black Folk (New York, 1903); Carter G. Woodson, The History of the Negro Church (Washington, D.C., 1921), and Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson, The Negro's Church (New York, 1969). For more recent studies of the black church, black Christian denominations, and black membership in traditionally white denominations, see C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Church Since Frazier (New York, 1974); C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham, N.C., 1990); Alton Pollard III and Love Henry Whelchel, Jr., How Long this Road: The Legacy of C. Eric Lincoln (New York, 2003); James Walker Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (New York, 1895); Bishop William J. Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Charlotte, N.C., 1974); Mechal Sobel, Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith (Westport, Conn., 1979); James Washington, Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power (Macon, Ga., 1986); Sandy Martin, Black Baptist and African Missions: The Origins of a Movement, 18801915 (Macon, Ga., 1989); Cheryl Sanders, The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (New York, 1996); Sylvia Frey and Betty Wood, Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and the Caribbean (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998); Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York, 1990); and Newell Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism (Westport, Conn., 1981). Texts on women and gender within black Christian denominations include Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 18801920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1993) and Jualynne E. Dodson, Engendering Church: Women, Power, and the A.M.E. Church (Lanham, Md., 2002).

Several important texts in the study of black folklore and African-derived practices in the United States include Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1926); Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (Philadelphia, 1935); Harry Middleton Hyatt, Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft, Rootwork: Beliefs Accepted by Many Negroes and White Persons, These Being Orally Recorded Among Blacks and Whites (Hannibal, Mo., 19701975); Alan Dudnes, Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrell: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1973); and Yvonne Chireau's well-documented text Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Los Angeles, 2003).

Scholarship on diverse black religious traditions include C. Eric Lincoln, Black Muslims in America (Boston, 1961); Joseph Washington's Black Religion: The Negro and Christianity in the United States (Boston, 1964), Black Sects and Cults (New York, 1972), and Jews in Black Perspective (Cranbury, N.J., 1984); Allan Austin's African Muslims in Antebellum: A Source Book (New York, 1984); Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African American Experience (Bloomington, Ind., 1997); Michael Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998); Aminah Beverly McCloud, African American Islam (New York, 1995); and Anthony Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience (Minneapolis, 1998); Yvonne Chireau and Nathaniel Deutsch, Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism (New York, 2000); Peter Paris, The Spirituality of African People: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse (Minneapolis, 1995); Joseph Murphy, Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora (Boston, 1994); George Brandon, Santeria From Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories (Bloomington, Ind., 1993); Elias Farajaje-Jones and Kortright Davis, eds., African Creative Expressions of the Divine (Washington, D.C., 2000); Elias Farajaje-Jones, In Search of Zion: The Spiritual Significance of Africa in Black Religious Movements (New York, 1990); Salim Faraji's "Walking Back to Go Forward," in Garth Baker-Fletcher, ed., Black Religion After the Million Man March (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1998); Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic (Berkeley, Calif., 2003); Rachel Harding, A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness, Bloomington, Ind., 2000); Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Berkeley, Calif., 1991); Elizabeth McAlister, Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora (Berkeley, Calif., 2002); Kamari Clarke, Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities (Durham, N.C., 2004); Dianne Stewart, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (New York, 2004); and Josiah Young, Dogged Strength Within the Veil: Africana Spirituality and the Mysterious Love of God (Harrisburg, Pa., 2003).

For substantial theoretical treatments of African American religion see Charles Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion (Philadelphia, 1986); Theophus Smith, Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America (New York, 1994); and Donald Matthews, Honoring the Ancestors: An African Cultural Interpretation of Black Religion and Literature (New York, 1997).

The most comprehensive introduction to black theology, including discussion of womanist theology and the debate between black theologians and scholars of religion, is James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore's Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume One: 19661979 (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1993) and Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume Two: 19801992 (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1993). Mark Chapman's extensive annotated bibliographies in both volumes contain many of the references cited in this essay in addition to other works covering areas such as pastoral theology and liturgical studies. For Cornel West's early contributions to African American religious studies see Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (Philadelphia, 1982) and Prophetic Fragments (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1988).

In addition to the womanist texts and articles already cited in this essay and the ones included and cited in Black Theology: A Documentary History, see N. Lynn Westfield, Dear Sister: A Womanist Practice of Hospitality (Cleveland, Ohio, 2001); Linda Thomas, Under the Canopy: Ritual Process and Spiritual Resilience in South Africa (Columbia, S.C., 1999) and "Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm," Cross Currents 48, no. 4 (Winter 19981999): 488499; Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, If It Wasn't For the Women (New York, 2001); Stephanie Mitchem, Introducing Womanist Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y., (2002).

See references listed in this essay regarding anthologies, documentary and biographical studies. Edited texts containing works of pivotal scholars in biblical studies are Cain Hope Felder, ed., Stony the Road We Trod (Minneapolis, 1991) and Vincent Wimbush, ed., African Americans and the Bible: Sacred Texts and Social Textures (New York, 2000). Also see Cain Hope Felder, Troubling Biblical Waters: Race, Class, and Family (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1989). On cultural approaches to sacred texts in African American religious studies see Gay Byron, Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (New York, 2002); Robert Hood's Must God Remain Greek?: Afro Culture and God-Talk (Minneapolis, 1974) and his Begrimed and Black: Christian Traditions on Blacks and Blackness (Minneapolis, 1994); Wande Abimbola's Ifa: An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus (Ibadan, Nigeria, 1976); Maulana Karenga's Selections from the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt (Los Angeles, 1984) and Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings (Los Angeles, 1999).

For treatments of black religion and popular culture see Michael Dyson's Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture (New York, 1996), Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (New York, 2001), and Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye (New York, 2004); Anthony Pinn, Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music (New York, 2003); and Judith Weisenfeld, "My Story Begins Before I was Born: Myth, History, and Power in Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust " in Representing Religion in World Cinema: Filmmaking, Mythmaking, Culture Making, edited by Brent Plate (New York, 2003) and Weisenfeld's "For Rent, 'Cabin in the Sky': Race, Religion, and Representational Quagmires in American Film," in African American Religious Thought: An Anthology, edited by Cornel West and Eddie Glaude (Knoxville, Tenn., 2003).

Tracey E. Hucks (2005)

Dianne M. Stewart (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"African American Religions: History of Study." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"African American Religions: History of Study." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/african-american-religions-history-study

"African American Religions: History of Study." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/african-american-religions-history-study

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.