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African American Religion and Folk Culture before 1920

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines African American religion prior to 1920, which produced many of the religious elements that would appear in the African American Islamic Renaissance, but which was not by itself responsible for creating a major Islamic movement, despite Islam having a presence throughout black American religious history. African American religion before 1920 can be divided into two eras, each of which is based around a significant institution-shaping phenomenon: slavery and Emancipation. It is argued that during the slave era many different African religious traditions were blended with each other and with white American traditions to create the unique folk religious culture of African Americans in the United States. This religious culture was profoundly influenced by African Americans’ concerns over their experience of slavery and the American concept of race. During the second era, African American religious culture, which now primarily identified with Christianity but also contained numerous non-Christian teaching known widely as ‘hoodoo,’ experienced a major wave of religious organizing, which allowed for the institutionalization of numerous folk beliefs. Several new religious movements were also formed, but again, black religion was strongly oriented to issues around race and the treatment of African Americans by white society. Throughout both eras, Muslims and Islamic concepts were present, but they never made a major impact on black religiosity.



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