Religious Studies | Religion and Culture: African American Religions and the Atlantic World
R660 | 27890 | S. Johnson

Above class meets with REL-R735
This graduate seminar examines the history of religions among
African and African Diasporic peoples in the Americas. A central
organizing theme is the series of contacts and exchanges that have
derived from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonial conquest,
African slave rebellions, African independence movements, and the
ambivalent array of Black responses to imperialism from the 1500s to
the twenty-first century within the geographical scope of what is
widely referenced as “the Atlantic world.” The course begins with
the rise of trade relations between Central and West African states
and Iberia to excavate issues such as African and Iberian (and
broader European Christian) theories of capital, matter, and spirit.
Early readings will examine the complex of dynamic religious regimes
in Central and West Africa (such as Orisha religion in the Oyo
Kingdom and Catholicism in the Kongo State). The course follows the
forced displacement of Africans to the Americas to interpret the
multiple traditions of African derived religions among communities
of enslaved and free Africans within the context of a burgeoning
Substantial readings include coverage of Candomblé in Brazil,
multiple African religious sects in Jamaica, Vodun in Haiti, and
religion among enslaved and free Africans in the United States. The
course also examines nineteenth and twentieth century religious
movements such as the rise of independent African Christian
denominations and the subsequent growth of Afro-Protestantism after
the Civil War, African American missionary religion in Liberia,
Garveyism, African American Islam, Yoruba revivalism in the 1960s
and 1970s, and the mega-church and charismatic movements among
contemporary Christians of the Atlantic world.
Of central importance is theoretical attention to transnationalism,
gender and sexuality, and the interface between Black religions and
market capitalism. In addition, the course will devote attention to
problems of method in the study of African American religions.
Finally, the course will frame and proffer rejoinder to major
paradigmatic quandaries such as the following: (1) What do the data
on African American religions in the Atlantic world reveal about the
relationship between slavery and freedom? Between empire and the
American promise? (2) How has European racial taxonomy (racial
identity) been a cultural force in the formation of African American
religions? (3) What role has cultural hybridity (comprising yet not
reducible to European, African, American identity) performed in
structuring the ideas, identities, and paradigms of African American
religions? (4) How has the contextual framework of the Atlantic
world altered the historical and theoretical interpretation of
African American religions?
Seminar participants will produce a book review that follows a
publishable format, write a semester examination (bluebook/essay),
and undertake a semester research project culminating in a research
essay of approximately 25 pages. Insofar as it is possible, seminar
participants are expected to craft a research project that supports
the students’ larger research agenda (i.e., dissertation research).
Seminar participants will also have the opportunity to develop a
syllabus that is ideal for use in teaching an undergraduate survey
course in African American religions.