African American Religions: An Overview

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African American religions can be studied analytically and historically. Since American religion is a broad phenomenon, the term African American religion must be defined. Although Christianity is the predominant African American religion in the New World and blacks have joined every major Christian denomination, they also practice other faiths such as Islam, Judaism, vodoou, and Santeria. Moreover, historically and phenomenologically African Americans' religion and identity often interact. The religious traditions Africans brought to the New World have forged an African American identity, but this identity has developed through a new religious experience shaped by the conditions Africans underwent in the Americas.

Religion, as a discrete phenomenon that can be studied apart from the cultural, social, and political realms of human interaction, is a modern notion that was not held by most of the Africans who were brought to the Americas. Religion encompasses the meanings, symbols, and rituals that interpret and regulate human contacts and exchanges with other humans, the natural world, and the invisible world. Humans must conceptualize, ritualize, and determine the meaning and value of the power they experience in these contacts and exchanges. This meaning applies to African American religions within the historical and spatial context of the Atlantic World in which it arose. Atlantic World describes the world that was created through the contacts and exchanges that occurred between Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans beginning in the sixteenth century via the mechanisms of the colonization of the Americas and the slave trade. The religions of Africans and the religions of Europeans deeply and profoundly affected these exchanges. African American religions must be studied within the Atlantic World's broad geohistorical context and through a comparison with its transatlantic counterparts. African American religions demonstrate certain distinguishing features related to typology as well as to the impact of the race of its proponents within the complex formation of a religious orientation. In this world, where Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans came to inhabit the same geographic and social space, the issue and experience of power appeared in entirely new modalities of nonreciprocity that were legitimated through ingenious social classifications, customs, and mores created by those in power.

These new modalities gave rise to new religious meanings and indeed new religions. Africans discerned and exercised alternate meanings and practices that expressed their unique understanding of the world and their place in it. This practice led to an African American identity with its religious counterparts, originating in the Middle Passage and continuing through the period of slavery. These crucibles transmuted disparate African peoples and religions into an African American people endowed with a range of religious practices and beliefs that distinguished them from their European American counterparts.

African Background: Continuity and Discontinuity

A historical treatment of African American religions must begin in West Africa and the religions practiced there; the vast majority of Africans who arrived in the New World came from this region. While African American religions can be studied in terms of their continuity with West African forms of worship, they must simultaneously be studied as religious responses to the radical discontinuity experienced by the Africans who were forced to undergo the ordeal of the Middle Passage. Moreover, these faiths also must be seen in dynamic terms, because African societies were undergoing a process of rapid change at the time of their first contact with Europeans. This contact not only intensified the speed of that change but also transformed its nature.

Unlike most Europeans, Africans came to the Americas involuntarily as chattel slaves; the involuntary nature of their journey provoked a severe crisis of meaning in the souls of the ten to fifteen million of them who survived the Middle Passage. Some of the dominant ethnic groups that comprised the slave population brought to the Americas included the Mandingo, Wolof, Fon, Fulani, Hausa, Yoruba, Akan, Ibo, and Kongo peoples; certain aspects of African American cultural and religious life originated among these ethnic groups. A significant number of Africans who were brought to the Americas from Upper Guinea had been converted to Islam, and some from the Kongo Kingdom had become Christian, but the religions practiced by the vast majority of Africans prior to enslavement are classified as traditional African religions. This term, however, is almost a misnomer because religion was inextricably interwoven with every other cultural aspect of life in most African societies. A person did not have a religious identification per se; rather, people's sense of identity was most often connected to their village and clan.

Traditional African religions were not static because African societies have continually undergone a process of rapid change through the contacts and exchanges resulting from trade, migration, and warfare. Extensive trade networks connected the fishing villages on the coast with the agricultural villages of the interior. When a dominant group settled in a host's territory, either the host group or the dominant group adopted the religion and sometimes language of the other people. Among the Ibo around the Niger Delta region, for example, the Aro society functioned in two important capacitiesthey performed a religio-juristic role by operating the sacred oracle, and they controlled trade. The Ibo were a stateless society, and because the Aro did not belong to any particular village, they were, at least theoretically, able to pronounce legal decisions through the oracle without partiality. The Aro's pronouncements of penalties became much more severe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, after its traders became middlemen in the slave trade.

Creolization in the Atlantic World

A "creole" is a person of French or Spanish descent who was born in a country other than France or Spain, usually a tropical colonial territory. This definition was later extended to include the English settlers in colonial lands; thus, the English colonists living in North America before the American Revolution can also be called "creoles." Creole is much more than an issue of place of birth, however. Creole culture is the result of contact, subordination, and settlement of peoples and cultures within the Atlantic World. The term reflected this broader meaning when it was applied to persons of French and African parentage in Haiti and Louisiana. It has come to connote the result of biological as well as cultural contacts and exchanges. Creolization in this sense was something that started even before Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean. It occurred on the islands off the coast of Africa and on the Iberian Peninsula. Indeed, the first enslaved Africans that were imported to the New World in the early sixteenth century came from Spain and not directly from Africa. Some of the religious and cultural manifestations of their creolization established patterns of religious life that were continued by the slave population that arrived directly from Africa. Enslaved Africans in Spain's urban areas formed their own religious confraternities and mutual aid societies to assist with burials, participate in numerous saint's days associated with Iberian Christianity, and help raise funds for their member's manumission. Such organizations were replicated in the Americas and provided a structure through which Africans organized various aspects of their religious and social life. These organizationscalled cabildos were noted for the songs and dances they performed at fiestas and holidays according to their respective nations. Creolization is one way of understanding how African ethnic groups adapted, blended, and reinterpreted both African and non-African religious traditions. This process occurred differently in the Caribbean and in South America, however, where Africans retained much more of their ethnicity than in North America. Nevertheless, creolization, in the broader sense of the term, did happen. The first African American religious institutions in North America grew out of benevolent and self-help groups previously organized among the Africans.

North America: Slave Religion

In North America, African American slaves did not embrace Christianity in large numbers until the Great Awakening, beginning in 1740. The revivalists of this period, including the preachers George Whitfield and William Tennent, noted that blacks were among the crowds who flocked to hear them. Despite the positive response to the revivalists made by an increasing number of slaves, by the early 1800s the majority of blacks remained only minimally touched by Christianity. Scholars speculate that the religious practices of American slaves during this period were eclectic adaptations of African retentions and borrowings from their contacts with Native Americans and European Americans. The task of reaching the rural areas where the majority of the black population resided fell to the plantation missions. The growing abolitionist movement in the North put pressure on the slave owners to admit the missionaries. At the same time, however, the missions were compelled to assure the slave owners that Christian instruction would reconcile slaves to their condition. The slaves heard preaching on the Sabbath and, in many cases, at a second evening meeting during the week. Because most states had antiliteracy laws for slaves, instruction was given orally. Sermons instructed the slaves that serving their master was synonymous with serving God and that they should be content with their condition of bondage.

Most plantation owners, however, were never really at ease with the missions' rationale that Christianity would pacify the slaves and rightly so, because the slaves generated their own interpretation of the faith. Even at the risk of beatings, there were always a few who taught themselves how to read out of an earnest passion to interpret the Scriptures directly. These interpretations were communicated by slave preachers in clandestine meetingsthe invisible institutionwhere the slaves met in secret to worship, pray, and sing. In these meetings, they heard the preaching of such leaders as Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, and Gabriel Prosser. If slaves were caught having secret meetings, they were severely punished. Spirituals that contained coded messages announced such meetings as well as stories of escapes from bondage on the Underground Railroad. At the secret "bush arbor" meetings, slaves could plan escapes and uprisings and contemplate the eschatological message of freedom through their songs.

Categories: Invisibility, Opacity, and Double-Consciousness

W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folks was the first phenomenological study of African American religion. This compilation of essays was first published in 1901, and it confines itself to the black religious experience in the United States. What is evident in this classic is that African American religion must be approached through a phenomenology of African American consciousness. Phenomenology basically asks the question of how something appears.

Du Bois begins his book by describing how black people appear, both to themselves and to others, by introducing the concept of double-consciousness. The racial construct constituting an African American identity was seen by Du Bois in relational terms, but it was anything but ahistorical. He situated the black religious experience in the context of the Atlantic World. His doctoral dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, provided early documentation for the theme the scholar Eric Williams later developed more fully in Capitalism and Slavery. African American religion was situated at the core of the modern world's political economythe slave was forced to undergo modernity and African American religion was a vital component of the struggle to survive that ordeal. William Pietz has documented how, during their initial economic exchanges with Africans, the Portuguese misinterpreted African traditional religions under the category of "the fetish," thus introducing the term into European discourse. African's religions were being "fetishized" at the same time that their bodies were being "commodified."

The experience of being powerless before the absolute power wielded over the slave by the master tended to deprive the slave of agency and self-definition. While undergoing this experience, however, the slave was also intuiting a realm of power that transcended that of the master; by relating to this realm, slaves could construct a collective identity independent of the one imposed upon them by their oppressors. Several African American thinkers, such as Howard Thurman (The Negro Speaks of Life and Death) and Benjamin Mays (The Negro's God), have noted how African American religion functioned to help them survive the ordeal of slavery. An African American identity emerged out of the encounter and perception of a God who transcended the master and was for them and with them. Their experience of God's transcendence can be discerned in the lyrics to one spiritual: "Over my head I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere."

African American identity was connected with and invoked through this sort of revelatory experience. In Trabelin' On, Mechal Sobel argues that a distinctive worldview emerged concomitant with the black religious experience. The black religious experience is something to which white people had no access, because the very nature of their power over their slaves prevented them from encountering the slave as a subject. In his book Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion, Charles H. Long has shown that because whites were so assured that their definitions of those they enslaved and colonized corresponded with reality, the true identity of these "empirical others" was rendered opaque. In its "opacity," black religious experience serves as the "critique of the critique," according to Long.

Modalities: The Holy Spirit, Moan, and Shout

In one of the spirituals, the singer exclaims: "Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart I will pray." The Holy Spirit and spirits play prominent roles in African and African American religions. Slaves experienced the spirit through an ecstatic mode of religious perception as a power origination from a divine source that transcended the mundane powers that held them in degradation and bondage. This mode of religious apprehension was not entirely new. Spirit possession had already been something that characterized the indigenous religions Africans practiced prior to enslavement. When spirit possession takes place, the worshipper experiences being taken over by the entity that is invokeda nature spirit, deceased ancestor, or a god. In the Kongo Kingdom during the late eighteenth century, a Christian convert named Dona Beatrice Kimpa, who may have been a medium prior to her conversion, claimed that she was possessed by Saint Anthony's spirit and that the Holy Family was African. This cultural heritage of participation or connection with the Creator through the intermediary of a spirit or power persisted in North America where, under the influence of Christianity, the African spirits were forgotten or abandoned. Nevertheless, the modality participation and possession by the object of religious devotion did persist in the New World. The example of Dona Beatrice Kimpa demonstrates the involvement of women in the African American religionas prophets, healers, mystics, and social activistsalthough they could not serve as priestesses. Additionally, the study of African and African American women's history provides innumerable examples that highlight the relationship between mystical experience and social practice.

As in Africa, Africans in America had no uniform way of experiencing the spirit in religion. In fact, as can be surmised from Bishop Daniel Payne's objection to what he regarded as "the barbaric" practice of the ring shout, many disagreed over what was appropriate conduct in Christian worship. While it is sometimes preceded by fasting, prayer, tarrying, and what Howard Thurman called the "deep hunger" of the soul, receiving the spirit is not controlled by any prescribed technique or practice. The process depends on the temperament and conceptual tools of the person who has received the gift. Thurman, for example, wrote: "As a child, the boundaries of my life spilled over into the mystery of the ocean and wonder of the dark nights and the wooing of the wind until the breath of nature and my own breath seemed to be oneit was resonant to the tonality of God. This was a part of my cosmic religious experience as I grew up." Some viewed Life Spirit as a personal being, while others regarded it as an undifferentiated power. Regardless of the understanding, however, the phenomenon of spirit is a prominent feature in African American religion. Two modalities through which the experience of the spirit may be expressed are the moan and the shout. These modalities can also be discerned in other aspects of African American culture such as the blues, gospel, jazz, black art, black oratory, and black dance.


African Americans organized their own voluntary associations before they developed their own churches or denominations. In 1776 Prince Hall and fourteen other blacks founded the African Lodge No. 1 in Boston, Massachusetts. The African Union Society was organized in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1780. This society worshipped in its members' homes and accepted women. Hall and seventy-five other blacks petitioned the General Court for permission to immigrate to Africa. The plans included forming "a religious society or Christian church" on the continent with "one or more blacks [to be] ordained as their pastors or bishops." African American benevolent societies supported and reached out to one another across state lines. The Newport society sent a financial contribution to Saint Thomas Church's building project in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just one example of what Will B. Gravely described as "the persistent symbiosis between churches and other voluntary associations in black life." African American ministers engaged in cooperative efforts aimed at social uplift and freedom across denominational lines after forming their own churches. Black ministers also often worked in cooperation with whites to oppose slavery. Black preachers who were prominent in the abolitionist movement were the African Methodist Daniel Payne; the African American Episcopal Zionists J. W. Logan and Christopher Rush; the Episcopalians Alexander Crummell, James Holly, and Peter Williams; the Congregationalists Amos Beman, J. W. C. Pennington, Charles Ray, and Samuel Ringgold Ward; and the Presbyterians Samuel Cornish, Henry Highland Garnet, James Gloucester, and Theodore Wright. During this period, African American Catholics were small in number. In Baltimore and New Orleans, however, they managed to organize religious orders for black womenthe Oblate Sisters of Providence (1829) and the Holy Family Sisters (1842).

During the colonial and preRevolutionary War periods, the denominations most successful in attracting African Americans to their services were the Methodists and the Baptists. While discrimination caused blacks to form separate religious bodies, they also formed their own organizations to enable them to exercise the power needed to define their destinies and respond to their perception of God's claim on their life. As Gravely stated, "The sacred power that they felt, shared, and mediated could not be contained or isolated from more mundane forms of power." The formation of African American congregations was motivated more by practical and theological concerns rather than ideologicalthat is, black nationalistconsiderations. The Methodists often organized their African American converts into separate congregations that were supervised by a white minister. In other cases, equally objectionable to the African American worshippers, the blacks were made to sit in segregated areas in the sanctuary; they could receive Communion only after the whites had been served. In 1787 Richard Allen (a former slave), Absalom Jones, and others protested the treatment they received at Saint George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia by withdrawing from that congregation and using the already established Free African Society as the center of their religious activity. The new organization, Saint Thomas's Protestant Episcopal Church, named Absalom Jones as the first African American Episcopal priest in 1794. The Bethel Church, another outgrowth of the Free Society, became the base for organizing the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination. In 1816 a Philadelphia conference established the AME Church, with Allen replacing Daniel Coker as bishop. The AME Church adopted the Methodist Episcopal Church's Book of Discipline but with more stringent antislavery strictures. AME membership grew to eight thousand people by 1839. The AME spread the gospel not only through the efforts of camp meetings and revival services but also through printed materials generated from its own publishing house. The Book Concern Department, founded in 1818, was the first African American publishing house in the United States.

African American Baptists also organized their own churches during these periods. The first African American Baptist churches were probably those organized in the 1750s on the Byrd plantation in Mecklenburg, Virginia, and in Silver Bluff, South Carolina, by George Leiles. The Silver Bluff congregation's life was disrupted during the War of Independence; the church manager and others sought their freedom with the British in Savannah, Georgia. This move resulted in the formation of the First African Church of Savannah, which joined the Georgia Association of Baptist Churches in 1790. Other African American Baptist congregations were also organized during the revolutionary and postrevolutionary periods in Virginia (1774), Kentucky (1790), Massachusetts (1805), Pennsylvania (1809), New York (1808), and New Jersey (1812). By 1813 there were forty thousand African American Baptists; the majority them, however, belonged to the same churches as their owners.

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) church began around the same time as its AME counterpart and under similar circumstances. James Varick, Peter Williams, William Brown, June Scott, and others petitioned and received permission from Bishop Francis Asbury to hold their own services in New York City in 1796. This group did not declare itself to be the AMEZ Church until 1799, however, and the church was not incorporated until 1801, when it was recognized by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The first conference was held at Zion Church in New York City on June 21, 1821. The AMEZ Church was the first Methodist church to ordain women to perform all functions except ordination; notably, it was also the first to officially oppose slavery and include its opposition in its Book of Discipline (1820). In 1821 the AMEZ Church had a total membership of fourteen hundred members under the leadership of twenty-two ministers.

Most African American ministers did not exercise leadership beyond the level of their local congregation because they lacked either the means or the ability. Carol V. R. George points out that "while members of the clerical elite traveled, wrote books, and addressed antislavery audiences their less distinguished brothers built Sunday schools, raised money, and joined or sponsored local groups responsive to the community needs, all efforts that had the effects of heightening the racial consciousness and collective identity of black people." The majority of black clergy who served individual congregations or traveled on the circuit lived a precarious economic existence. Few black congregations, whose members often consisted primarily of servants, could maintain a full-time pastor. To survive therefore black clergy had to rely on white patrons or also work as farmers, barbers, or teachers. This predicament left many ministers and their congregations with little time or energy to directly engage in abolitionist activity, even though there was no difference between their antislavery sentiments and those of their more visible counterparts. In Black Religion and Black Radicalism, Gayraud Wilmore asserted that, after the Civil War, African American churches became deradicalized. This impression might be justified when looking at the clergy elite, but the vast majority of clergy and churches continued to struggle to uplift their local congregations.

Religious Diversification in the Postemancipation Period

Following the Civil War, African Americans made tremendous gains in the political arena during Reconstruction (18651877), when newly enfranchised blacks sent numerous elected officials of their own race to state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. When Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president of the United States, the Republican Party withdrew its support of the black cause, abandoning African Americans to the local white population that quickly disenfranchised blacks through intimidation, grandfather clauses, gerrymandering, poll taxes, and other devices. Approximately three thousand blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1910. In 1883 the Supreme Court ruled that the public accommodations section of the 1875 Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. In 1896 the Supreme Court affirmed the nation's separate-but-equal policy in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

In this broad political environment, African Americans continued to organize religiously and socially. Emancipation provided greater latitude to their organizational efforts than what was experienced during slavery. Mobility among African Americans increased dramatically after the Civil War. The black Methodist denominations increased in number and influence among African Americans. The Methodists, however, were never able to compete with the Baptists in winning African American converts to their fold. The Baptist became the major religious force in African American life following the Civil War. As early as 1867 the Consolidated American Baptist Convention was organized. This body lasted until 1880. Baptists were organizing state conventions throughout the South by the 1870s. When the consolidated body dissolved, three smaller bodies arosethe Foreign Mission Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. (1880), the American National Baptist Convention (1880), and the American National Educational Baptist Convention (1893)that later united into the National Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. Two underlying issues that triggered these bodies were the attempt of whites to exercise control over the black coreligionists and the conflict between conservatives and progressives in the denomination. For example, the refusal of the American Baptist Publication Society to accept contributions from blacks necessitated the formation of the National Baptist Publishing House under R. H. Boyd. Some black Baptist congregations continued to use the Sunday school literature produced by the white publishing house, while others used the material produced by the black publishing house.

The type of piety practiced by slaves did not disappear with the ending of slavery, because their social and material conditions did not change substantially with emancipation. Seventy-five percent of the African American population still lived in the South as late as 1880, and most of them earned their livelihood through some form of agricultureoften tenant farming and sharecropping. As ex-Confederates returned to power and survival became more difficult due to periodic economic depressions, African Americans began to migrate to the North and West. In the West, a new form of African American Christianity appeared: Pentecostalism. African Americans remained segregated, however, regardless of where they resided. The church served as the only institution that could provide group cohesion and self-help. Black churches continued to promote education through the encouragement of Bible reading and the formation of literary societies. They also became social service agencies by establishing mission programs in poor black areas, jails, hospitals, and homes for orphans and the elderly. A Bible school, nursery school, kindergarten, gymnasium, employment agency, and school of music were organized in Atlanta, Georgia, by H. H. Proctor's Congregational church. Another Congregational church, led by W. N. De Berry in Springfield, Massachusetts, organized an employment agency, a women's welfare league, a home for working girls, a handicraft club for boys and girls, and an evening school for domestic training. These kinds of mission programs were duplicated in most urban areas. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the complexity and magnitude of the problems encountered by urban African Americans were beginning to outstrip the black church's resources.

By the early twentieth century, African Americans had ceased to be a monolithic entity and were experiencing greater social differentiation, although they still represented a distinct caste in American society. Religious preferences diversified among African Americans, as some blacks became educated or urbanized. Some educated urban African Americans insisted on a dignified worship experience. On the other hand, many black migrants found the formality of the urban African American churches stifling. Thus greater differentiation in African American forms of piety developed starting in the early twentieth century. Many storefront churches proliferated in black urban areas, and various religious figures, such as Father Divine (18871965) and Daddy Grace (c. 18811960), started significant religious movements. African Americans also joined non-Christian religions, such as the Nation of Islamfounded in the 1930s by Elijah Muhammadand various black Jewish bodies that they regarded as being more compatible with their sense of black identity.

Pentecostalism represented a new form of Christianity that emerged among the African Americans who migrated to the western part of the United States. Its historical significance, according to David D. Daniels III, lies in the fact that in this movement African Americans did not just adapt a form of Christianity to fit their needs and circumstancesas had the African American Methodists and Baptistsbut instead created a new form of Christianity.

Most historians agree that Pentecostalism has its roots in the Holiness movement that started in the Methodist Church around the end of the Civil War. The roots of the Holiness movement in turn can be traced to the heritage of revivalism in American Christianity. A holiness impulse or stream seems to infuse African American Christianity. The African American Nat Turner said in his Confession, "I sought to obtain true holiness before the great day of judgment should appear and then I began to receive the true knowledge of faith." In Topeka, Kansas, in the early 1900s the preacher Charles F. Parham (18731937) promulgated the Pentecostal doctrine of a third blessing of speaking in tongues to follow the second blessing of sanctification. The African American holiness Baptist preacher William J. Seymour took Parham's doctrine of speaking in tongues to Los Angeles in 1906, where he led a revival at 312 Azusa Street, the former sanctuary of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Within twelve months, the movement had spread internationally. Women playedand continue to playa very prominent role in Pentecostalism's leadership. Perhaps the greater emphasis Pentecostalism places on prayer and healing helps account for this, since that office is more closely associated with a certain type of charisma.

The emphasis on speaking in tongues, prayer, and healing did not prevent a significant number of Pentecostal organizations from starting social programs, sending missionaries to Africa, and involving themselves in the Marcus Garvey movement and later in the Civil Rights movement. In the early twenty-first century, Pentecostalism was the fastest-growing religious movement among African Americans. Due to racial integration, social class differentiation, and the increased number of black immigrants from outside the United States, however, religious diversity among African Americans has increased significantly. Apart from mainline Christianity and Pentecostalism, African Americans have also embraced Islam, Afro-Caribbean religions, Afro-Brazilian religions, Judaism, and Buddhism.

Pentecostalism in particular and religious diversity in general challenge black theologians, feminist theologians, and African American religious scholars to determine whether these trends have any continuity with the liberationist impulse Wilmore and others have traced from the period of slavery through the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist preacher and theologian. Or should Pentecostalism in its megachurch permutation be critiqued as something that ultimately works against the quest of African American religions for freedom? The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. led African American Christians in a profound and intense theological reflection on the nature of power in the ultimate sense and in the way it manifests itself in the lack of reciprocity in the global economy. Any new religious movements that appear on the horizon of the African American historical experience will have to come to grips with this question; in fact the viability of existing African American religious bodies will depend upon how effectively this issue is addressed.


The problematic nature of engaging in the study of religion and the notion of the opacity of African American religion is discussed in depth in Charles H. Long's Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion (Philadelphia, 1986). W. E. B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk (New York, 1999; 1st ed. 1903) is the first phenomenological-historical study of black consciousness and black religion; in this classic, Du Bois introduces the notion of "double-consciousness" as a relational term descriptive of blackness in the United States. A detailed historical description of the way creolization began to occur on the African side of the Atlantic is in George E. Brooks's Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000 1630 ( (San Francisco, 1993). See also Richard A. Lobban Jr.'s Cape Verde: Crioulo Colony to Independent Nation (San Francisco, 1995). The complex issue of how the term "fetish" entered into European discourse through the fetishization of traditional African religions is discussed in great detail by William Pietz in a three articles, "The Problem of the Fetish I," Res 9 (1985): 517; "The Problem of the Fetish II: The Origin of the Fetish," Res 13 (1987): 2345; and "The Problem of the Fetish IIIa: Bosman's Guinea and the Enlightenment Theory of Fetishism," Res 16 (1988): 105123. The way the Middle Passage and New World experiences transformed African religion is explored in depth in John Thornton's Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400 1680 (New York, 1992).

For an overall view of the black church in the United States, see Carter G. Woodson's The History of the Negro Church (Washington, D. C., 1921). For an account of black religion that describes a continuity of the protest element from the slavery period through the twentieth century, see Gayraud S. Wilmore's Black Religion and Black Radicalism, 2d ed. (New York, 1983). For an in-depth historical and cultural analysis of the religion practiced by black slaves in the United States, see Albert Robateau's Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South (Oxford, 1978). For a more phenomenological treatment of slave religion, see Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited (New York, 1949) and The Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death (New York, 1947). The growth of the more visible independent black churches in the North is described in Carol V. R. George's Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches (New York, 1973). The relationship between black religion and African American consciousness is documented in Mechal Sobel's Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith (Westport, Conn., 1979). See also Sterling Stuckey's Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America (New York, 1987). Excellent studies of the history of the black church in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century is in David W. Wills and Richard Newman, eds., Black Apostles at Home and Abroad: Afro-Americans and the Christian Mission from the Revolution to Reconstruction (Boston, 1982); and Randall K. Burkett and Richard Newman, eds., Black Apostles: Afro-American Clergy Confront the Twentieth Century (Boston, 1978). Will B. Gravely's article "The Rise of African American Churches in America (17861822): Re-Examining the Contexts," in African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture, edited by Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau (New York, 1997), details the relationship between African American voluntary associations and their churches. In the same volume see Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's "The Black Church: A Gender Perspective," an article that employs Du Bois's notion of double-consciousness to describe the religious experience of African American women in the United States in terms of "multiple consciousness." For an overall historical treatment of African American women, see Jacqueline Jones's Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York, 1985). Jualynne E. Dodson's "Nineteenth-Century AME Preaching Women," in Women in New Worlds: Historical Perspectives on the Wesleyan Tradition, edited by Hilah Thomas and Rosemary Keller (Nashville, Tenn., 1981), documents the contribution of African American women to the AME denomination.

For a sociological description and analysis of the forms African American religion assumed in the urban environment, see Arthur Huff Fauset's Black Gods of the Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1944). See also St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton's classic sociological study of Chicago, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York, 1945). Although the scholarship pertaining to black Jews is wanting, a good place to begin is Howard Brotz's The Black Jews of Harlem (New York, 1970). For a good history of the Nation of Islam, see E. U. Essien-Udom's Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America (Chicago, 1962). Vinson Synan's The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1971) is an excellent survey of this movement's historical development. See also the comprehensive and detailed article by David D. Daniels III, "Pentecostalism," in The Encyclopedia of African American Religion, edited by Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward (New York 1993). For Martin Luther King Jr.'s thought, see James M. Washington, ed., Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, 1986). The relationship between the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and black theology can be discerned in a collection of primary documents by Gayraud S. Wilmore and James H. Cone, Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966 1979 (New York, 1979). For a more contemporary sociological overview of the different black religious denomination affiliations, see C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, eds., The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham, N.C., 1990).

James Anthony Noel (2005)

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African American Religions: An Overview

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African American Religions: An Overview