Jonathan Walton (Assistant Professor of African American Religions, Harvard Divinity School) will give a public lecture on "The Preachers' Blues: Reclaiming Authority on Wax," Wednesday, April 13, 4:00pm, Shrader Lecture Hall, Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA.
Walton, a social ethicist and African American religious studies scholar, is the author of Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of African American Religious Broadcasting (New York University Press, 2009) a groundbreaking study on religion, media, and theology. Cornel West (Princeton University) describes the book as "the best work we have on the complex dynamics of the Black megachurch phenomenon. Walton is a brilliant cultural critic and courageous prophetic voice!" James Cone (Union Theological Seminary) lauds Watch This! as "An important examination of the Black Electronic Church. Jonathan Walton brings new insights into the major TV evangelists in the African American community."
Professor Walton will speak at ENC on the history of the religious "race" record industry and the the cultural ethos and competing ethical values of black Christian communities during the 1920s and 1930s. Like all forms of mass culture, says Walton,
religious records served multiple purposes and were interpreted by listeners at varying registers. For many, religious recordings were spiritually edifying and liberating, just as they were wildly entertaining. Critics have show that these religious recordings contested the aesthetic values of the black middle class even as they reinforced bourgeois behavioral codes. By turning our attention to the shared interests of male preachers and the recording industry, I describe how sermons stressing personal piety and culturally familiar stereotypes shaped cultural debates concerning the style, content, and purpose of evangelical preaching in the 20th century.