American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures

American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures

American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures

American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures

Synopsis

The 1780s and 1790s were a critical era for communities of color in the new United States of America. Even Thomas Jefferson observed that in the aftermath of the American Revolution, "the spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust." This book explores the means by which the very first Black and Indian authors rose up to transform their communities and the course of American literary history. It argues that the origins of modern African-American and American Indian literatures emerged at the revolutionary crossroads of religion and racial formation as early Black and Indian authors reinvented American evangelicalism and created new postslavery communities, new categories of racial identification, and new literary traditions. While shedding fresh light on the pioneering figures of African-American and Native American cultural history--including Samson Occom, Prince Hall, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and John Marrant--this work also explores a powerful set of little-known Black and Indian sermons, narratives, journals, and hymns. Chronicling the early American communities of color from the separatist Christian Indian settlement in upstate New York to the first African Lodge of Freemasons in Boston, it shows how eighteenth-century Black and Indian writers forever shaped the American experience of race and religion. American Lazarus offers a bold new vision of a foundational moment in American literature. It reveals the depth of early Black and Indian intellectual history and reassesses the political, literary, and cultural powers of religion in America.

Excerpt

Oh Mary don't you weep, Tell Martha not to moan, Pharaoh's Army Drowned in the Red Sea, Oh Mary don't you weep, Tell Martha not to moan.

American Lazarus tells a story of redemption and regeneration. It reconstructs the founding moments of African-American and Native American literatures. These American literary traditions emerged during the era of the American Revolution, when blacks and Indians faced not only the crushing legacies of slavery and colonization but also the chaos of war, epidemic, resettlement, exile, and the political uncertainties of the new nation. In this portentous and dangerous time, pioneering black and Indian writers used literature to create a new future for their peoples. They redirected the democratizing, charismatic, and separatist energies of American evangelicalism and its powerful doctrine of rebirth into the formation of new religious communities, new theologies, and new literatures for people of color. By adapting, politicizing, and indigenizing mainline religious discourses, African-Americans and Native Americans also established a platform for their critical interventions into early national formulations of race. This book tells the story of how the earliest black and Indian authors established themselves as visionary interlocutors of secular nationalism and the American Enlightenment.

The most famous proponents of that Enlightenment did not regard their black and Indian contemporaries so highly. This is what Thomas Jefferson had to say about one of America's first black authors: “Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The . . .

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