This excerpt from “Your Spirits Walk Beside Us” “The Politics of Black Religion” has special significance to me:
Hortense Powdermaker undertook an extended study of black rural life in Mississippi in the early 1930s… Powdermaker was a white woman form Baltimore and a former labor organizer. She had received her Ph,D. in anthropology 1928 from the London School of Economics…
Trained as a cultural anthropologist but with a keen interest in psychoanalysis she began her scholarly career with a close ethnographic study of a Pacific island community which became the topic of her first book. She returned to the United States and took a position as a research associate at Yale’s Institute of Human Relations. There, she pursued her interest in applying ethnographic methods to African American communities…
Powdermaker spent a year in 1932 and 1933 living in the small Mississippi delta town of Indianola studying both white and black communities…
The relationships that her primary informants, black women, had with their God were personal and profound, less concerned with the hereafter, and focused mainly on finding the strength for the struggles of daily life.
Powdermaker attended both black and white churches and saw stark theological differences between the two religious communities. While white ministers preached “dread and doom.” their black counterparts pictured “with equal vividness the joys that await the godly. “For blacks, “benevolent mercy rather than stern justice” was the chief mission of their God. “The accent has shifted from Hell to heaven, from retribution to forgiveness, from fear to hope.” The Christian duty to love one’s neighbors actually had been taken to heart by black believers.
Much of the work of religious training was done in Sunday schools which were often taught by black public-school teachers, a fact mentioned in Johnson’s work as well. In one Sunday school, a discussion ensued around the question of whether it was possible not to hate whites. Someone answered, to much laughter, “Yes, it is possible, but hard.” The teacher expressed pity for the hatefulness of white people and warned that they would have to answer to God for their misdeeds. “If we hate them, ‘ she says, ‘we poison ourselves. Christ loved His enemies and asked for their forgiveness; we should have Christ in us.”
A book filled with fresh insights on the relationship between black politics and religion has earned its author the 2012 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.
Barbara D. Savage, a professor of history and American social thought at the University of Pennsylvania, is receiving the prize for the ideas set forth in her book, “Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion,” published in 2008 by Harvard University Press.
The book introduces important new perspectives on the study of black religion and the political role of African American churches, said award director Susan Garrett.
“Besides explaining why it is misleading to speak of ‘the black church’ given the enormous diversity among African American congregations, Savage challenges the popular belief that black churches have been prophetic and politically active throughout history,” Garrett said.MORE AT: