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African-American religion

African-American religion. The religious beliefs of so large and diverse a population cannot be unified into a single, artificial scheme. The African dispersion has now mingled with many other sources, and black Americans look to more roots than those of their African origin (thus black Muslims may absorb Islam ab origine, not simply via Africa, and black Catholics advert to St Martin de Porres, a 17th-cent. Peruvian of Afro-Hispanic descent); and in any case, the nature of the religious beliefs in any particular area depends on a creative interaction with existing beliefs and customs. In relation to Christianity, they have been marked by a strong independence (for the first African-American Church, see AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH), ranging from the ‘storefront churches’ to the African Orthodox Church (founded by Marcus Garvey and an Episcopalian priest, G. A. McGuire), in which the Madonna and Christ are visualized as black. At one stage (c.1960) the National Baptist Convention numbered more than 6 million members. In relation to Islam, see NATION OF ISLAM, BLACK MUSLIMS.

Despite the extreme vitality and diversity of African-American religion, H. A. Baer and M. Singer (African-American Religion in the 20th Century, 1992) have suggested that African-American religion falls into four broad types: (i) messianic-nationalist (cf. MESSIAH); (ii) thaumaturgic; (iii) conversionist; (iv) mainstream. In addition, it is clear that all types are united by a profound involvement in the religious possibilities of music and dance. R. F. Thompson (Flash of the Spirit, 1983) has singled out as recurrently characteristic the dominance of a percussive style, propensity for multiple metre, overlapping call and response, inner pulse control, suspended accentuation patterning, and songs and dances with social allusion.

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