The Souls of W. E .B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections

By Watkins, Katara M. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The Souls of W. E .B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections


Watkins, Katara M., The Journal of Negro Education


The Souls of W. E .B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections, by Edward J. Blum & Jason R Young (Eds.). Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009, 279 pp., $45.00, hardcover.

Echoing the title of the work discussed, The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections is a collection of soul-stirring, position essays presented to examine the varying relationship of religion that exists between W. E. B. Du Bois and his writings. Editors, Edward J. Blum and Jason R Young, set the premise for a rigorous debate between different scholars' perceptions of Du Bois and the theme of reUgion. Discussions range from commentary on Du Bois's own personal views and value of reUgion and extend to the examination of the concept of "souls" and the "soul-life" as a prominent theme of Du Bois's writings. This work is rounded out by discussions on the utility and application of specific reUgious metaphors and rhetoric and finaUy, Ulustrations of Du Bois's inclusion of global reUgious ideals, traditions, and beUefs are highlighted. Du Bois's life experiences and written work are threaded together as supportive evidence for each of the writers' positions. This collection of essays proves to be a valuable contribution to a series of works that aims to "present the development of the intellectual tradition of the African Diaspora," (Blum & Young, 2009, Book Jacket) by voices of the African Diaspora. It presents a highly, philosophical and theological discussion which includes numerous references to work of major scholars that have written on Du Bois.

The book is divided into four sections, whh three chapters per section. Each essay discusses some element of the broad topic of the relationship of reUgion and Du Bois's work. The consistency of the content of the essays does not necessarily correspond in each section. Some sections present essays that represent opposing views and aim to counter the argument of another. In other sections, the debate is sUenced, as different aspects of the sub-topic are individually discussed. The preface, completed by the editors, highUghts the existing debate of whether Du Bois is religious or irreligious. Without clearly endorsing the position that he is reUgious, the emphasis is placed on the need for more scholars to examine Du Bois' reUgious experiences in a "non-traditional" manner. A brief biological sketch is provided offering some context and background information for the reader. The rationale for this collection is endorsed by the editors' insertion that Du Bois's "spiritual power" is being "underestimated" if left to simple debates about being religious or irreligious. This work fills the inferred gap in scholarly writings that aim to understand Du Bois and his relationship with religion.

Part I, for example, asks the question, "Was W. E. B. Du Bois Religious?" Each chapter presents a different perspective to this complex question. Chapter 1, written by Phil Zuckerman, is a convincing stance on Du Bois's reUgious convictions. Zuckerman acknowledges that Du Bois could likely be defined as deeply reUgious at one point in his Ufe. Despite this, he characterizes Du Bois's religious experiences as dynamic; a progression of knowledge and understanding of reUgion and religious things. His argument provides a clear sequence of Du Bois's religious development. Zuckerman notes Du Bois's lifestyle, the caliber of his associates and the contradicting values between things he affiliated with and the concept of religion. He inserts that it is unlikely that Du Bois maintained strong reUgious beUefs in Ught of, the literal statements he made and the overall shift in his ideals demonstrated toward the end of his life.

Chapter 2, "W. E. B. Du Bois on God and Jesus, " presented by Dwight N. Hopkins argues that although Du Bois rejected the western ideals of religion that were rooted in ritualistic traditions, he held a consistent acknowledgment of God and His connection to people, specifically people of African descent. …

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