Special Issue "Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 August 2017)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Carolyn J. Medine

Department of Religion, The University of Georgia, Peabody Hall Athens, GA 30602-1625, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: religion and literature; African American religions and literature; religious theory and thought; women's spirituality and writings

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Black people do everything. That’s what I tell my classes when I teach African American religions. We are Buddhists, like Alice Walker and Jan Willis. The Interior Ministry of Israel ultimately recognized the Mosley family, African American converts, as Jews (Judy Maltz, “African American Converts Recognized as Jews in Israel.” Haaretz, 28 May 2015 (available online: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/news/.premium-1.658593). As James Houk has pointed out, African religious systems have incorporated Catholic saints, Hindu gods, and Kabbalistic practices (James Houk “The Orisha Religion in Trinidad.” in African American Religious Cultures. Edited Stephen C. Finley and Torin Alexander. Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2000, pp. 287–288). We are in the Nation of Islam and also in traditional Islam. We are also among the “nones”, those who do not identify themselves as religious. In addition, we have seen our thinkers, like Martin Luther King, Jr., who utilized the work of thinkers from H. Richard Niebuhr to Gandhi, “Africanize” theory and theology (I suspect, for example, that President Barack Obama was influenced by the thoughts of Edward Said). Without losing our African pasts, we, like all global citizens, are engaging the brave new world of religious diversity.

What do we make of African American innovations, alignments, syncretisms and significations on religious thought, from theory to theology, and practice, from our roots, like Orisha devotion and Hoodoo, to new practices, like Buddhism? Do we see retrenchments into fundamental—and I do not mean this in a necessarily negative way—practices in the black church that have sustained the community since slavery? How are we using media, art, music, and other forms to practice and innovate in religion? What impact has technology had on African diaspora religions?

This Special Issue invites innovative emerging young scholars and some of us older scholars, too, in African diaspora religions, to write about their insights into the diverse landscape of African American religious thought and practice. This Special Issue will be, necessarily, interdisciplinary and daring, as we look at new forms of belief and practice.

Prof. Dr. Carolyn J. Medine
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Quilting the Sermon: Homiletical Insights from Harriet Powers
Religions 2018, 9(2), 46; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9020046
Received: 31 October 2017 / Revised: 25 January 2018 / Accepted: 29 January 2018 / Published: 3 February 2018
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Abstract
Sermons come in a variety of forms. For Harriet Powers, an African American artist and former slave who lived from 1837–1910, sermons took the form of quilts. Unlike most quilts crafted during her lifetime, Powers’ quilts told biblical stories, recounted legends, and carried [...] Read more.
Sermons come in a variety of forms. For Harriet Powers, an African American artist and former slave who lived from 1837–1910, sermons took the form of quilts. Unlike most quilts crafted during her lifetime, Powers’ quilts told biblical stories, recounted legends, and carried messages of divine judgement and hope. This article offers a brief account of her life, a description of her quilts, and a reflection on her spirituality. Rather than approaching her quilts solely as folk art, this essay places them in the African American preaching tradition. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessArticle Rescue US: Birth, Django, and the Violence of Racial Redemption
Religions 2018, 9(1), 21; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010021
Received: 19 December 2017 / Revised: 8 January 2018 / Accepted: 8 January 2018 / Published: 12 January 2018
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Abstract
In this article, I show how the relationship between race, violence, and redemption is articulated and visualized through film. By juxtaposing DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I contend that the latter inverts the logic of [...] Read more.
In this article, I show how the relationship between race, violence, and redemption is articulated and visualized through film. By juxtaposing DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I contend that the latter inverts the logic of the former. While Birth sacrifices black bodies and explains away anti-black violence for the sake of restoring white sovereignty (or rescuing the nation from threatening forms of blackness), Django adopts a rescue narrative in order to show the excessive violence that structured slavery and the emergence of the nation-state. As an immanent break within the rescue narrative, Tarantino’s film works to “rescue” images and sounds of anguish from forgetful versions of history. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessArticle The Canonical Black Body: Alternative African American Religions and the Disruptive Politics of Sacrality
Religions 2018, 9(1), 17; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010017
Received: 17 November 2017 / Revised: 1 January 2018 / Accepted: 3 January 2018 / Published: 9 January 2018
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Abstract
“The Canonical Black Body” argues that central to the study of African American religions is a focus on the black body and the production and engagement of canons on the sacred black body within the black public sphere. Furthermore, this essay suggests that, [...] Read more.
“The Canonical Black Body” argues that central to the study of African American religions is a focus on the black body and the production and engagement of canons on the sacred black body within the black public sphere. Furthermore, this essay suggests that, by paying attention to alternative African American religions in the twentieth century, we can better engage the relationship between African American religion and the long history of creating these canons on the black body, debating their relationship to black freedom, and circulating the canons to contest the oppressive, exclusive practices of modern democracy. Through a critical engagement of the fields of Black Theology and New Religious Movements and using the resources offered by Delores Williams’ accounts of variety and experience and Vincent Wimbush’s category of signifying, this essay will argue for how a return to the body provides resources and tools for not only theorizing African American religions but thinking about the production and creation of competing black publics, including the important role of alternative black sacred publics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle “Let’s Imagine Something Different”: Spiritual Principles in Contemporary African American Justice Movements and Their Implications for the Built Environment
Religions 2017, 8(12), 256; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8120256
Received: 16 August 2017 / Revised: 8 November 2017 / Accepted: 13 November 2017 / Published: 23 November 2017
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Abstract
The Black Lives Matter movement has become one of the most visible, controversial, and impactful campaigns to address racialized violence and discrimination in the 21st century. Activists within the movement join traditional forms of social protest and policy development with rituals and spiritual [...] Read more.
The Black Lives Matter movement has become one of the most visible, controversial, and impactful campaigns to address racialized violence and discrimination in the 21st century. Activists within the movement join traditional forms of social protest and policy development with rituals and spiritual practices, drawing upon spiritual resources as a source of transformation and empowerment. The transformative aims of Black Lives Matter and other contemporary African American justice movements address critical areas for reform, like criminal justice, education, and public health, but their vision for reform is broad and extensive, envisioning the creation of a more just world. As such, the physical context for African American life—the buildings and public spaces known as the built environment—is a crucial aspect of social transformation. This essay examines the spirituality of Black Lives Matter and other contemporary African American justice movements and considers how it inspires the ongoing transformation of buildings and public spaces. By analyzing the spiritual practices and themes in the Black Lives Matter movement as described by its founders, this paper identifies three principles and relates them to similar concepts in African American religious thought, womanist ethics, and ecowomanism. Applying these three spiritual principles—liberation, inspiration, and healing—to the design of architecture and public spaces can enrich and affirm African American life. Appealing to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as an example, this paper articulates the possibilities of architectural projects to symbolically and practically support liberative goals in African American religious systems and political movements. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
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Open AccessArticle #BlackBabiesMatter: Analyzing Black Religious Media in Conservative and Progressive Evangelical Communities
Religions 2017, 8(11), 255; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110255
Received: 1 August 2017 / Revised: 11 November 2017 / Accepted: 14 November 2017 / Published: 19 November 2017
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Abstract
This article explores how conservative and progressive black Protestants interrogate the theological theme of the sacrality of black life through digital media. The innovations of religious media in black evangelical communities remain an understudied phenomenon in African American religion, making this an apt [...] Read more.
This article explores how conservative and progressive black Protestants interrogate the theological theme of the sacrality of black life through digital media. The innovations of religious media in black evangelical communities remain an understudied phenomenon in African American religion, making this an apt arena for further discovery. This current intervention into the study of African American Religion examines digital activism through examples of religious media produced by blacks for black audiences. This article begins its interrogation of the sacrality of black life by juxtaposing those who contend that Black Babies Matter as pro-birth-oriented, religiously motivated activists with those religious opponents asserting Black Lives Matter who present an intersectional pro-life approach. The comparison of views relies on womanist cultural analysis as its main methodology to analyze and interpret digital media and explore its ramifications for African American Religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle “Wherefore She Made Suit”: African Women’s Religious and Spiritual Determinism in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England
Religions 2017, 8(11), 251; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110251
Received: 19 August 2017 / Revised: 7 November 2017 / Accepted: 13 November 2017 / Published: 16 November 2017
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Abstract
Historical evidence of early modern English religious communities demonstrate that culturally negative perceptions of skin color and ethnicity contributed to theological notions of black inferiority which supported societal hierarchies based on racial and gender discrimination. This essay analyzes three accounts of a group [...] Read more.
Historical evidence of early modern English religious communities demonstrate that culturally negative perceptions of skin color and ethnicity contributed to theological notions of black inferiority which supported societal hierarchies based on racial and gender discrimination. This essay analyzes three accounts of a group typically ignored by religious scholars on early modern England: sixteenth and seventeenth century African women. Despite living in a period that arguably witnessed the ideological birth and development of the racial construct in tandem with British colonialist and imperialist expansionism, these women defiantly crafted their own brand of spiritual determinism to wield personal agency in the face of racist theological discourse, ecclesiastical institutions, and legal authorities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Fighting Injustice and Intolerance: Re-Presentations of Race and Religion at the Muhammad Ali Center
Religions 2017, 8(11), 241; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110241
Received: 4 September 2017 / Revised: 23 October 2017 / Accepted: 27 October 2017 / Published: 1 November 2017
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Abstract
This article explores the significance of the Muhammad Ali Center as a site where meanings associated with “race” and “religion” are constructed, contested and potentially transformed. The Muhammad Ali Center is examined as an example of an increasing number of cultural institutions (i.e., [...] Read more.
This article explores the significance of the Muhammad Ali Center as a site where meanings associated with “race” and “religion” are constructed, contested and potentially transformed. The Muhammad Ali Center is examined as an example of an increasing number of cultural institutions (i.e., cultural centers, museums, arts spaces etc.) engaged in the strategic re-presentation of issues of cultural difference and socio-political conflict, towards the ends of promoting social justice and/or human rights. The article draws upon theories and methods in cultural studies, religious studies, and museums studies in order to explore the significance of the representational and curatorial strategies of such cultural institutions for understanding alternative approaches to influencing and/or intervening in public discourses and practices surrounding issues of racial injustice and religious intolerance. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Black Buddhists and the Body: New Approaches to Socially Engaged Buddhism
Religions 2017, 8(11), 239; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110239
Received: 24 August 2017 / Revised: 3 October 2017 / Accepted: 9 October 2017 / Published: 31 October 2017
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Abstract
This article deconstructs how Buddhist practitioners of African descent acknowledge racism and challenge predominantly white, affluent Buddhist sanghas that embrace the tenets of Socially Engaged Buddhism. It argues that practitioners of African descent directly acknowledge the social constructs of the black body that [...] Read more.
This article deconstructs how Buddhist practitioners of African descent acknowledge racism and challenge predominantly white, affluent Buddhist sanghas that embrace the tenets of Socially Engaged Buddhism. It argues that practitioners of African descent directly acknowledge the social constructs of the black body that result in violent practices such as police brutality and disproportionate black incarceration. To support this argument, I rely on primary texts published by Socially Engaged Buddhists. The results conclude that black Buddhists not only highlight the suffering wrought by racism in the West, they also challenge white sangha members to reckon with the depth of racism in society and in their sanghas. I conclude that black Buddhists, in their acknowledgement of the socially constructed meanings of the black body, offer an important challenge to Socially Engaged Buddhism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Adorned by Power: The Individualized Experience of the Mojo Bag
Religions 2017, 8(10), 213; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8100213
Received: 15 August 2017 / Revised: 18 September 2017 / Accepted: 19 September 2017 / Published: 29 September 2017
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Abstract
In America, no religion better exemplifies the power of the individual than Hoodoo. Within these peripheral communities in the South, enslaved persons created spaces in which individual practitioners could choose which rituals, objects, and beliefs they prioritized for their own salvation. Out of [...] Read more.
In America, no religion better exemplifies the power of the individual than Hoodoo. Within these peripheral communities in the South, enslaved persons created spaces in which individual practitioners could choose which rituals, objects, and beliefs they prioritized for their own salvation. Out of this tradition of “selection” came the development of adornments like Mojo Bags, an amalgamation of objects, both natural and manufactured, that connect the individual directly with the sacred. When adorned with these Mojo Bags, primarily under clothes to assure contact with the skin, practitioners are provided with the power they have previously been denied. I will argue in my paper, therefore, that this method of adornment provides the locus of power needed to address the psychological and physical bondage practitioners faced during the period of enslavement, highlighted by the case of Frederick Douglass’ use of a root that led to his success in fighting with Mr. Covey. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessArticle Black Lesbians to the Rescue! A Brief Correction with Implications for Womanist Christian Theology and Womanist Buddhology
Religions 2017, 8(9), 175; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090175
Received: 14 July 2017 / Revised: 18 August 2017 / Accepted: 22 August 2017 / Published: 1 September 2017
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Abstract
Foundational Black Womanist Christian Theology has suffered from the focus on Alice Walker’s 1983 four-part womanist definition at the exclusion of her 1979 short story, Coming Apart. The focus on the 1983 definition and the exclusion of Coming Apart has left an [...] Read more.
Foundational Black Womanist Christian Theology has suffered from the focus on Alice Walker’s 1983 four-part womanist definition at the exclusion of her 1979 short story, Coming Apart. The focus on the 1983 definition and the exclusion of Coming Apart has left an invisbilizing effect on the centrality of reliance on African-American lesbian literature and wisdom in womanist Christian methodology. The invisibilization can be corrected, in part, through interpolating Coming Apart with the 1983 definition, utilizing a Black Buddhist lesbian Womanist hermeneutic, and additional Womanist engagement in Womanist Consultations. This correction has implications for Christian theologies that may be heterosexist, homophobic, and patriarchal, Biblical interpretation, preaching, and epistemological processes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
Open AccessArticle From the Sacred Sound of the Conch Shell to the Cemetery Dance: Reimagining an Africana Festival Created in a Southern Appalachian City
Religions 2017, 8(8), 149; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8080149
Received: 2 June 2017 / Revised: 27 July 2017 / Accepted: 8 August 2017 / Published: 14 August 2017
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Abstract
To contemplate African American experience and its many racialized contours is to invoke a tensive quandary concerning the reconstruction of African American cultural identity in a dynamic network of historically assailed African diasporas. Utilizing a transdisciplinary approach that deploys historical analysis as well [...] Read more.
To contemplate African American experience and its many racialized contours is to invoke a tensive quandary concerning the reconstruction of African American cultural identity in a dynamic network of historically assailed African diasporas. Utilizing a transdisciplinary approach that deploys historical analysis as well as cross-cultural and epistemological reflection, this article gestures in such a reconstructive direction from the local vantage point of Asheville, North Carolina’s “African and Caribbean” Goombay Festival. One detects in the festival an exotifying, ambiguously celebratory quality that deprioritizes Affrilachian cultural memory in southern Appalachia in favor of consumable public entertainment. The ensuing argument culminates in a preliminary epistemological reimagining of the Asheville Goombay Festival by way of constructive intercourse with the ancestral spirit-based African Jamaican ritual institution of Gumbay Play, an institution that facilitates processes of identity formation through mnemonically engaged ritual performance. Further, it is argued that this reimagining can amplify the ancestral mnemonic potential of Goombay in Asheville to incorporate more fully the varied Affrilachian lifeworlds of western North Carolina, thereby making possible a reexamination of African American cultural identity in Asheville capable of producing substantive responses to the epistemological challenge of Affrilachian cultural identity formation within western North Carolina’s greater social landscape. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Race and Religion: New Approaches to African American Religions)
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