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What is African American Religion? (The Future of the African American Past, Session 05)

“What is African American Religion?” explores the centrality of religion to African American culture. Though Protestant Christianity is known to be the normative topic of study, the panelists push for a more nuanced understanding of the African American religious experience, arguing that black communities have practiced a multiplicity of faiths.

This session took place Saturday, May 21, 2016, at Warner Bros. Theater, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC. It was part of The Future of the African American Past, a landmark conference concerning “what comes next” in the study of African American history. The conference was co-hosted on May 19-21, 2016, by the American Historical Association (AHA) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

Sponsorship: The Future of the African American Past was made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (https://www.neh.gov/) and HISTORY (http://www.history.com/). For more information about the conference, including full session videos, please visit https://futureafampast.si.edu.

About the AHA: The American Historical Association is the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions. The AHA is a trusted advocate for history education, the professional work of historians, and the critical role of historical thinking in public life.
https://www.historians.org

About the NMAAHC: The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
https://nmaahc.si.edu/

Video produced by Intelligent Television: http://www.intelligenttelevision.com/

00:12 – Introduction by Lonnie Bunch (NMAAHC) and Jim Grossman (AHA)

11:12 – Edna Greene Medford (Howard University) introduces the panel by discussing the ways African Americans fought to preserve their sacred beliefs.

17:21 – Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. (Princeton University), citing his 2010 essay “The Black Church is Dead,” argues that common terms like “African American religion” and “the Black Church” fail to adequately describe the complexity and ambiguity of religious experiences, especially non-Protestant faiths.

26:59 – Judith Weisenfeld (Princeton University), using images to frame her presentation, highlights non-Christian religious groups such as Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam.

39:31 – Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Harvard University) discusses the historical focus on “Bible politics,” or the ways in which Biblical conceptions of justice have shaped African American political ideas for social transformation.

57:20 – Anthea Butler (University of Pennsylvania) expands on Glaude’s call to abolish the conception of “the Black Church” and argues that refocusing on alternative narratives will bring historians closer to “the whole story” of African American religious history.

Resources:
• Eddie Glaude, Jr., “The Black Church is Dead,” Huffington Post, April 26, 2010: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eddie-glaude-jr-phd/the-black-church-is-dead_b_473815.html
• The Blood of Jesus (1941): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033406/
• Virginia Slave Laws, 1660s: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/24-sla.html
• Henry Highland Garnet, “An Address To The Slaves Of The United States,” 1843 speech: http://www.blackpast.org/1843-henry-highland-garnet-address-slaves-united-states
• African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project: http://aardoc.sites.amherst.edu/

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