Guest Editorial Comment: Historical and Contemporary Contextualizations on Religion and Spirituality and Black Educational Outcomes
Madyun, Na'im, Witherspoon, Noelle, The Journal of Negro Education
While the rest of the nation engages in debates around the issue of religion and education, this debate largely ignores the historic saliency of religion and spirituality in the Black community and education. Despite attempts to leech out this important cultural construct, religion and/or spirituality has been and still is an integral aspect in the education of Black students and the professional practice of educators of color. In fact, in the Black American community, religion and spirituality have always been central to the "project of seeking change" (Sawyer, 2000, p. 297) in schools and communities. Historically, the idea of "social justice and Black religion seemed inseparable" (Raboteau, 2000, p. 290). Religion and spirituality were areas in which African Americans' issues of oppression could finally be engaged and often the very existence of this religious freedom was rooted in the idea of protest (Frederick, 2003). Taking into account the historical significance of religion and spirituality to anti-oppression, community uplift, and notions of care, contemporary education scholars would do well to cultivate these long-standing connections as a means for advancing contemporary struggles for social justice and counterhegemonic praxis.
Educational scholarship continues to explore the workings of social justice to ameliorate inequities for those who have not been well served in schools. Although the concept of social justice remains a somewhat inchoate term in educational literature, the Black community has a long history built around the constructs of advocacy, justice, and social change. There is an underdeveloped space in educational research that links spirituality and religion as a process that invites and participates in the schooling of Black youth. In particular, exploring the historicity of religion and spirituality offers a scaffold for work that links ordinary, everyday acts of justice, religion, and spirituality and protests a culture that systematically and institutionally assaults the worth of Black students.
William Tate (2005) asserted that researchers follow this historical tradition and look to moral and spiritual "texts" to unpack and interrogate the workings of racism and other forms of marginalization in schools, but also to examine ways in which religion and spirituality have been present in decision-making and resolutions of problems affecting Black students. While Tate did not offer the ways in which this moral and spiritual grounding is made manifest, this special issue of The Journal of Negro Education seeks to explore the significance of religion and spirituality to the educational enterprise of social justice in schools. Rather than attempting to answer whether the religious tradition is true or attempt to find broad agreements, this issue seeks to promote research that carefully interpret what a religious or spiritual tradition means for the individuals who hold them, and its import in the schooling of Black students.
This special issue particularly privileges the value of historical and "scholarly ontologies (understandings of how things exist), axiologies (values, ethics, aesthetics, religion, spirituality), and epistemologies (ways of knowing)" (Smith, Yosso, & Solórzano, 2007, p. 563). It also promotes educational research that provides recommendations for leveraging the political, social, and cultural capital of the African American church to improve educational outcomes. Articles that reflect and integrate the complexity of the African American experience and translate that research into practical recommendations both inside and outside the classroom are included in this volume.
To better contextualize this special issue, we reached out to a few individuals who have placed their scholarly finger on the pulse of the African American church. We asked them to provide an assessment of the role the African American church, religiosity, and spirituality has played on educational outcomes in both historical and progressive terms. …