The Burden of Black Religion

The Burden of Black Religion

The Burden of Black Religion

The Burden of Black Religion

Synopsis

Religion has always been a focal element in the long and tortured history of American ideas about race. In The Burden of Black Religion, Curtis Evans traces ideas about African American religion from the antebellum period to the middle of the twentieth century. Central to the story, he argues, was the deep-rooted notion that blacks were somehow "naturally" religious. At first, this assumed natural impulse toward religion served as a signal trait of black people's humanity - potentially their unique contribution to American culture. Abolitionists seized on this point, linking black religion to the black capacity for freedom. Soon, however, these first halting steps toward a multiracial democracy were reversed. As Americans began to value reason, rationality, and science over religious piety, the idea of an innate black religiosity was used to justify preserving the inequalities of the status quo. Later, social scientists - both black and white - sought to reverse the damage caused by these racist ideas and in the process proved that blacks were in fact fully capable of incorporation into white American culture. This important work reveals how interpretations of black religion played a crucial role in shaping broader views of African Americans and had real consequences in their lives. In the process, Evans offers an intellectual and cultural history of race in a crucial period of American history.

Excerpt

In writing this book, I learned a lot about myself and how and why I have arrived at certain conclusions about the topic I have chosen to study. Self-awareness, of course, does not necessarily make the task of sorting through a bewildering array of historical evidence and offering plausible arguments for one’s conclusions any easier. My intent in telling a bit about the how of my researchis not meant to divert attention away from what I have written. I hope readers will be just as critical of what I have written after reading this preface as they would have if I had not included it. I believe my attempt to tell how I went about doing this project and what I hope to accomplish by undertaking it will provide deeper insight into why and how I came to certain conclusions, which will perhaps create more sympathy for my arguments, if not agreement. I think it only fair that I situate myself in relation to my subject matter because I have been trying to do the same with the many figures that I discuss in the body of this work. None of us is outside history, so we should try to give an account of ourselves as one way of informing the reader how our ideas are shaped by our personal biography and social location.

The origin of this book is probably deeply buried in my personal past and psyche. As young boys growing up in a small town in Louisiana, my brothers and I did not talk very much about race. We worked in the fields after school and spent most of the summers “chopping cotton” during the hottest parts of the day. There was not much time and energy to theorize about race. Our daily . . .

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