Divine Discontent: The Religious Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois

By Jonathon S. Kahn | Go to book overview

1
What Is Pragmatic Religious
Naturalism, and What Does It
Have to Do with Du Bois?

Since religion is dead, religion is everywhere. Religion was once an
affair of the church; it is now in the streets, in each man’s heart.
Once there were priests; now every man’s a priest.

—Richard Wright, The Outsider (1953)1

And all that I really have been trying to say is that a certain group
that I know and to which I belong … bears in its bosom just now the
spiritual hope of this land because of the persons who compose it and
not by divine command
.

—W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn (1940)2

Matthew Towns, the African American protagonist in Du Bois’s novel Dark Princess (originally published in 1928), finds himself in a clandestine political meeting in Germany, seated around a table with an eclectic array of “the Darker World.”3 They represent the elite from China, India, Japan, and Egypt, all devoted to the question of how to wrest power and culture from white imperial hands. This meeting of supposed activists has never had an African American or a black African in its circle, and the conversation turns uncomfortable when one of the Japanese participants explains this exclusion: “But for us here and for the larger company we represent, there is a deeper question—that of the ability, qualifications, and real possibilities of the black race in Africa or elsewhere.”4 So this group asks Towns—who has left the United States after he was denied

-21-

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