April 17

African American Religion

Guest Lecturer: Wallace Best, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies

Wallace Best, Ph.D. (Northwestern University) Assistant Professor, African-American and American Religious History. African-American and American religious history, Holiness and Pentecostal traditions, Black Theology, politics and religiosity, the Nation of Islam, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, black women's religious leadership, the relationships between urbanization, racial ideologies and religious cultures.


ABSTRACT: Protestant Christianity is at the very center of African American history and culture. In order to demonstrate this, my lecture will explore the complex issues that surrounded efforts beginning in the 17th century to Christianize African slaves, explaining why these efforts were ultimately successful among the many slaves who were receptive to Christianity. I will show that "slave religion" was not a simple acceptance and appropriation of "the slave master's religion." Rather, it was a process of religious development that transformed not only slave culture, but also American Christianity itself. The various expressionos of black Christianity that currently exist, permeating both African American relgious and mainstream culture, have origins in that transformed "slave religion."


Key Point: Christianity is at the very center of African American history and culture.

1. From African religion to "slave religion"
2. Who was most successful in Christianizing African slaves
3. Why slaves became Christian
4. From "slave religion" to a living tradition


E. Franklin Frazier. 1963. The Religion of the Slaves. Chapter One in The Negro Church. New York: Schocken Books, pp. 1-19.

Lawrence Levine. 1977. The Sacred World of Black Slaves. Chapter One in Black Culture and Black Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3-30.