Every Time I Feel the Spirit: Religious Experience and Ritual in an African American Church

By Timothy J. Nelson | Go to book overview

1
God's House in the Holy City

The past, someone once observed, is another country. Perhaps this is why Charleston seemed so foreign and exotic to me the first time I drove down South Carolina's Route 61, past the Ashley River plantations with their quaint formal gardens and ghostly rice fields and onto the streets of the narrow peninsula. For in this city, history is a constant and talkative companion who continually interrupts the routines of daily life with reminders of its 300-odd years of existence. Every trip through the compact grid of downtown streets and alleys, whether to the grocery store or post office, is like a journey through Southern history, and one must pass the house of this Confederate general or that signer of the Declaration of Independence just to mail a letter or buy some milk and eggs. The description of a visit to Charleston as “walking through the pages of a history book” (Stevens 1939) are as applicable now as they were when they were written during the Great Depression, and I soon found that the greatest challenge of driving here was avoiding the horse-drawn carriages that constantly plied the lower half of the peninsula, filled with sun-burned tourists marveling at the nation's largest collection of pre-Revolutionary structures.

As one who had spent most of my thirty-something years in southern California, where any building older than the Second World War seemed like an ancient relic, I found this history-on-display quite remarkable, sometimes astonishing and frequently disturbing. For mixed in the urban landscape with these venerated and meticulously preserved buildings, there are reminders of another past that is not so glorious. The physical remains of this legacy are sprinkled throughout the city's historic district in such sites as the Old Jail, a crumbling concrete fortress in the middle of an African American housing project and built on the very site of the work house once used to punish slaves. There is the Old Slave Mart on Chalmers Street, site of the largest slave auction house in the South and a

-13-

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Every Time I Feel the Spirit: Religious Experience and Ritual in an African American Church
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Qualitative Studies in Religion ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: God's House in the Holy City 13
  • 2: Religious Experience and Ritual 46
  • 3: “Do You Really Know Who God Is” 64
  • 4: “On the Battlefield” 93
  • 5: “In Spirit and in Truth” 116
  • 6: Sacrifice of Praise 145
  • 7: Race, Class, and Religion 172
  • Conclusion - Belief, Experience, and Ritual 192
  • Notes 209
  • References 211
  • Index 219
  • About the Author 222
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