Beyond Christianity: African Americans in a New Thought Church

Beyond Christianity: African Americans in a New Thought Church

Beyond Christianity: African Americans in a New Thought Church

Beyond Christianity: African Americans in a New Thought Church

Synopsis

Beyond Christianity draws on rich ethnographic work in a Religious Science church in Oakland, California, to illuminate the ways a group of African Americans has adapted a religion typically thought of as white to fit their needs and circumstances.

This predominantly African American congregation is an anomalous phenomenon for both Religious Science and African American religious studies. It stands at the intersection of New Thought doctrine, characterized by personal empowerment teachings,and a culturally familiar liturgical style reminiscent of Black Pentecostals and Black Spiritualists. This group challenges oversimplified concepts of the Black church experience and broadens the concept of Black religion outside the boundaries of Christianity--raising questions about what it means to be an African American congregation, and about the nature of blackness itself. Beyond Christianity adds a new dimension to the scholarship on Black religion.

Excerpt

The predominately African American congregation fills three services at the East Bay Church of Religious Science (EBCRS) on Sunday mornings. Members and visitors come regularly to this church in downtown Oakland, California, that is known throughout the community for its lively, uplifting environment, accomplished gospel choir, and empowering sermons that teach a philosophy called Religious Science. The East Bay Church of Religious Science sustains a community that successfully embodies an African American worship environment while simultaneously modeling the tenets of a historically White New Thought religion. To date there is not much known about those African Americans who take part in this religion. This book, the first to focus on African American religious scientists, is a start toward filling that niche.

This work is significant because the attraction of the East Bay Church of Religious Science to African Americans has considerable ramifications for the way the concept of “African American religion” is defined and discussed. I lift up Religious Science as a type of religious modality that has largely been overlooked in the African American religious studies literature. The study of the EBCRS expands our scholarly conversations beyond the historical focus upon Christianity and Islam as legitimate religious practices in which African American people are engaged. This . . .

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