Theorizing African American
African American Religion, sometimes referred to as African American Religious Studies, is a critical discourse that focuses on African American religious experience. The adjective “critical” determines how the discipline is theorized. Theory, in this context, has three elements: (1) how the discipline is imagined; (2) articulated; and (3) socially constructed, that is how it is arranged in relation to other disciplines. African American Religion has long been included in the overall curricula in American Studies. Surprisingly, however, in several of the most recent anthologies on African American Studies,1 Religion as a contributing core discipline in the field is absent or limited. In Norment it is absent, and it is defined exclusively by African American Islam in Marable’s text. Bobo, Hudley, and Michel,2 in comparison, devote an entire section to Blacks’ biblical interpretation, Black and Womanist Theology, Haitian Voodoo, and Islam in America. While they sectionalize African American Religion, nevertheless, it remains undetermined as a core discipline in African American Studies. Originally published in 1982 and updated in 1993, Karenga,3 a leading early theorist of Black Studies throughout the 1970s and 1980s, devotes an entire chapter to “Black Religion” as a core discipline within Black Studies, but not without extensive justifications.
The problem he faced, and which most recently was faced also by religious theorist Anthony B. Pinn,4 was how the discipline can be theorized in a manner that highlights the variety of African American religious experience beyond a Christian hegemony in the study of African Diaspora religions and in North American African Christianity. Karenga organizes “Black Religion” along three traditions of Africa: Ancient African;