Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance (Lived Religions)

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Beginning with the Free African Society all the way through the founding of my beloved Church of God in Christ, every black church formation had to contend with, in some form or another, the racist society that dehumanized, demonized, and at times decapitated literally and existentially their beings. For Sekou, the liturgical performances of his own youth were instrumental in fostering a sense of self-worth.

As historian Barbara Savage reminds us, there has long been a vigorous debate among black intellectuals on the relationship of socio-political action to ritual performance, especially the ecstatic modes of black worship which W. Franklin Frazier, scholarly accounts of black religion…. Cultural anthropologist, Marla Frederick, has argued against the hegemony of such interpretations of black religion, which fail to take seriously the complexity of the relationship between political engagement and the lived religious experiences of African Americans.

Ironically, liberationist theological interpretations of black religious experience have at times been equally dismissive and reductive of certain worship practices in the Black Church tradition.

Contemporary Perspectives on Religions in Africa and the African Diaspora

Here we would be wise to heed R. Such ritual practices of contemplation, Holmes argues, have often been inextricably linked to mobilization for political action. By giving attention to how black religion transcends its institutional strictures, she points to the ways black religious culture becomes a resource for various forms of political activism. Holmes insists:. These acts of shared contemplation move individual mystical events from the personal and private toward the public and pragmatic.

Accordingly, the inward journey transcends the private imagination to become an expanded communal testimony. As Rev. Folks who were just two-and-a-half generations from slavery and functionally illiterate taught me the profundity of democracy and religion. While it has been well documented within recent scholarship that religious rituals and rhetoric were used for political ends during the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements, much less attention has been devoted to the ways that contemporary religious activists deploy religious rituals and rhetoric to construct meaning for political mobilization on behalf of and with black youth of the hip-hop generation.

Yet, Barbara Holmes has persuasively argued:. Today increasing numbers of young people believe that the black church exists in a time warp, with slavery as its originating marker and civil rights as its culminating goal. To do so would be to mirror the reductionist accounts of the social sciences. Furthermore, Cultural Studies allows greater interpretive possibilities for religious rituals because of its attentiveness to the various social and political contexts in which cultural practices manifest themselves especially when these rituals are deployed beyond the context of the institutional church.

Moreover, the theoretical perspectives that inform Cultural Studies work not only to decode and critique the complex ways that symbolic systems construct forms of meaning, identity, and subjectivity that lead to cultural hegemony, but also at their best suggest cultural strategies for intervention. I am also concerned with questions of why and how religious activists turn to popular culture as a site of political struggle.

Theorists such as Kenneth Thompson argue that moral panics typically emerge during periods of significant social change and anxiety. During historical moments when moral values are being challenged, or transgressed, certain demographics particularly youth and ethnic minorities are deemed threats to the moral order of society. Moral panics surrounding the behavior and culture of black youths often lead to their public policing and increased incarceration of young blacks perceived as morally deviant. With reference to riots among black youth in Brixton during the s and s, Black British theologian Robert Beckford discusses the significance of work of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies CCCS in describing the ways that the cultural representation of black youth in public discourse rendered them vulnerable to the brutal repressive tactics of the British police.

The prevalence of this discourse made it difficult for institutions to engage with the African Caribbean community without pathologizing them. Within the U. As a result, new punitive technologies and legislation have been initiated in order to exercise greater control over black youth. The second and third quotations that began this essay signal the profound tension between religious rituals, academic theory, and urgent realities of life and death. Sekou describes in his interview with Medium.

Readings on Lived Religion and American Religious Diversity | Religious Worlds of New York

In his first book Urban Souls , Sekou describes the demonization and criminalization of black youth in St. Louis and the resulting police response. Furthermore, Sekou describes his own experiences of harassment by the St.

Louis police as a black youth, beginning in the late s. Louis that eerily foreshadow the Michael Brown case. Louis police officers acted in a vigilante capacity when they brutally beat Derrick Bell, a mentally retarded man; when they shot Garland Carter in the back; when they gunned down unarmed Ronald Beasley and Walter Murray. After exploring the lyrics of St. As a result, Sekou lamented:. It clearly denotes that very little amelioration in terms of community building has occurred.

In fact, the behavior of some cities suggests that there is a denial to recognize juvenocrats as viable citizens in our urban spaces. In [a] word, the problem with black folks is young black folks- ala Bill Cosby. It is no surprise then that Rev.

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In an interview with Medium. On phonograph preachers, see Martin , Lerone A. The California Eagle , a prominent African American newspaper, published the majority of the speech on February 13, If this audience interacted with Ellington in call-and-response fashion, then it is reasonable to suspect that he attempted to recreate and represent a scene common to most African American congregations.

From Ellington, My People. Similarly, political messages were likely to emanate from church pulpits, so there is little need to overlook the deeper religious content and story in this public rhetorical style. Watts , Jerry , ed. Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name , 4. Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Introduction to African Diaspora Religious Traditions, with Elizabeth McAlister

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Notes I am grateful toWallace Best, Kwami Coleman, Judith Weisenfeld, and the participants in the American Religious History Workshop at Princeton University for their encouragement and critical feedback on earlier versions of this article. Steed, Duke Ellington , See Matthew —34; Luke — Johnson, God's Trombones , 8—9. Recommend this journal. Religion and American Culture. Who would you like to send this to? Optional message. Toggle navigation. Marie Griffith , Barbara Dianne Savage This landmark collection of newly commissioned essays explores how diverse women of African descent have practiced religion as part of the work of their ordinary and sometimes extraordinary lives.

By examining women from North America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Africa, the contributors identify the patterns that emerge as women, religion, and diaspora intersect, mapping fresh approaches to this emergent field of inquiry. The volume focuses on issues of history, tradition, and the authenticity of African-derived spiritual practices in a variety of contexts, including those where memories of suffering remain fresh and powerful.

The contributors discuss matters of power and leadership and of religious expressions outside of institutional settings. The essays study women of Christian denominations, African and Afro-Caribbean traditions, and Islam, addressing their roles as spiritual leaders, artists and musicians, preachers, and participants in bible-study groups.


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This volume's transnational mixture, along with its use of creative analytical approaches, challenges existing paradigms and summons new models for studying women, religions, and diasporic shiftings across time and space. April 5, Categories: Religion.


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