In a recent posting on The New Republic's online The Book, Christine Stansell reviews a book that we've noted on the blog before: Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion, a hefty 695 pp. work published by Knopf (almost, not quite, as long as Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, see the post and comments on that book below!). I wanted to bitch, at first, about why The Book didn't seek out a true scholar/expert in the field of African American women and religion to review the work at length. Nevertheless, I like the points made in the last two paragraphs:
Some books need to be written, and this is one of them. We need also another book about the arduous, angry battle between the sexes in the white Protestant churches, and that book, too, will be filled with unhappiness that women sought to pray away, along with uplifting stories of what they did to cope in a spirit of Christian humility. But the fact is that difficult knowledge that crosses the color line in America always carries an extra charge, one that can redound badly on blacks.
Perhaps for that reason, a lot in Collier-Thomas’s long book goes unsaid, and so it is not easy to read. It has the problems of an older, fact-driven history: dates and places pile up, landmarks appear, and names whiz by, seldom to be worked up as characters. Yet it has the virtues of its empiricism as well. These mounds of facts, culled from reams of dusty church minutes, religious monthlies, and ladies’ societies reports, contain the materials to re-imagine an entire political and spiritual history. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, I would as soon have this history of these ladies praying in the pews as I would the hundred and fiftieth life of George Washington.
Shout out on that last point.
Perhaps the public "debate" (if an online contest between scholars and intellectuals can be called that) about Eddie Glaude's essay on "the death of the black church" could use some more of these virtues of empiricism. If so, Anthea Butler's interview on NPR is a good place to start. Anthea says,
But I teach a younger generation, and I need to tell you, they don't know what AME means. They don't know what CME means. They don't care. They don't know which Baptist is which from another. They don't get those old black church denominational structures. So I think what this is going to force people to do is to update themselves for the 21st century and realize that the conversations that have been in the past aren't quite the conversations that are going on now.