Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North

Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North

Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North

Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North


Stemming from his anthropological field work among black religious groups in Philadelphia in the early 1940s, Arthur Huff Fauset believed it was possible to determine the likely direction that mainstream black religious leadership would take in the future, a direction that later indeed manifested itself in the civil rights movement. The American black church, according to Fauset and other contemporary researchers, provided the one place where blacks could experiment without hindrance in activities such as business, politics, social reform, and social expression. With detailed primary accounts of these early spiritual movements and their beliefs and practices, Black Gods of the Metropolis reveals the fascinating origins of such significant modern African American religious groups as the Nation of Islam as well as the role of lesser known and even forgotten churches in the history of the black community.

In her new foreword, historian Barbara Dianne Savage discusses the relationship between black intellectuals and black religion, in particular the relationship between black social scientists and black religious practices during Fauset's time. She then explores the complexities of that relationship and its impact on the intellectual and political history of African American religion in general.


When the Philadelphia Anthropological Society sponsored the publication of Arthur Huff Fauset’s Black Gods of the Metropolis in 1944, his fellow members at the Society considered him uniquely qualified to conduct a study of black religious cults in Philadelphia. “Himself partly of Negro origin,” the Society’s Publication Committee wrote in a foreword to the book, Fauset “was endowed for this study with a background, a point of view, and an entree to the field which could never have been possessed by one of exclusively European tradition and descent.”

By citing only his racial credentials without commenting on the study itself, the foreword vividly illustrated the paradoxical position of black social scientists as they alternately foiled and wielded the double-edged sword of racial essentialism. the Society’s words also spoke to prevailing assumptions about the nature of the nexus between race, religion, and culture, ironically the central intellectual debate in the book.

Born in New Jersey in 1899, Fauset was the son of Redmon Fauset, a black African Methodist Episcopal minister, and of Bella White, a Jewish convert to Christianity. Fauset’s father died when his son was an infant. Fauset spent most of his youth in Philadelphia, where he graduated from Boys Central High School in 1916, the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy in 1918, and the University of Pennsylvania with an ab degree in 1921. He began a career as a teacher and was soon promoted to be a principal in the Philadelphia public school system, a position he held from the 1920s to the late 1940s.

During the 1920s, Fauset also pioneered the study of black folk culture and, like his much better-known older half-sister Jessie Redmon Fauset, engaged in literary pursuits as well. With encouragement from Alain Locke, Fauset turned to short story and essay writing; he won many awards, including an O. Henry Award for the best short story in 1926, and earned inclusion in several important anthologies. in addition to his love of writing, Fauset developed an interest in black folklore, which led him to the University of Pennsylvania to receive a master’s degree in anthropology in 1924. Fauset published ar-

1. Foreword to the 1944 edition, v.

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