A laundry list of topics I'd like to blog on accumulated over the past month - my family and I moved to the South Carolina Lowcountry where West African simbi spirits reside; Sylvester Johnson's game-changing African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (Cambridge, 2015) just dropped; Show Me A Hero has me thinking a lot about white Catholic resistance to forced desegregation; and, with the (ongoing) help of friends, I'm compiling a reading list on Black liberation and religion. Surprising to no one, the frantic start to the semester pressed pause on this ambitious list.
So instead, today I want to share a little bit of what went down in my first class at the College of Charleston. This is my second year teaching an introduction African American religions, albeit at two very different institutions, and for the second year in a row I am attempting to teach "African American religion" as a category of analysis. In this I've been influenced by Eddie Glaude's argument in African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2014), which I've blogged about here before. In a quote worth reading in its entirety, Glaude argues provocatively (and I think persuasively)
If the phrase "African American religion" is to have any descriptive usefulness at all, it must signify something more than African Americans who are religious. In fact, African Americans practice a number of different religions. There are black people who are Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Baha'i. But that African Americans practice these traditions does not lead us to describe them as black Buddhism or black Mormonism. African American religion singles out something more substantive than that (7).To paraphrase Glaude a bit bluntly, if the study of African American religion is simply the study of the many ways African Americans happen to be religious, then that study is neither interesting nor productive.