SLAVE RELIGION: The ""Invisible Institution"" in the Antebellum South by Albert J. Raboteau

SLAVE RELIGION: The ""Invisible Institution"" in the Antebellum South

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Chiefly a strong refutation of the view that Christianity's major impact on the slaves was to promote an otherworldly docility. Raboteau acknowledges that African religious retentions in the United States were not as extensive as in the Caribbean or South America. But he convincingly argues that blacks did not simply accept wholesale the religion that their white masters handed down to them. Certain attitudes, folk beliefs, and patterns of motor behavior survived the trans-Atlantic crossing, and the slaves incorporated them into what they found here to establish their own variety of Christianity. In addition, Raboteau shows that orthodox Christianity itself was a double-edged sword--its egalitarian elements often provoked a desire for temporal as well as spiritual freedom, as demonstrated by the religious background of Nat Turner's insurrection and various slave conspiracies. Beyond and perhaps more important than the issue of docility versus rebelliousness, the author compellingly depicts the ways in which the slaves--through the media of black preachers, autonomous churches, and secret religious meetings--used Christianity to create their own community of fellowship that gave them a sustaining sense of group and individual dignity in the midst of oppression. The work's major problem is that although Raboteau uses primary sources, they are published, familiar materials, and many of his central conclusions have been articulated or at least suggested by Eugene Genovese, in Roll, Jordan, Roll, and other historians. The work, then, while valuable for its comprehensiveness, lucidity and fleshing out of important issues, is not substantially innovative.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1978
ISBN: 0195174127
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press