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A FIRE IN THE BONES by Albert J. Raboteau


Reflections on African-American Religious History

by Albert J. Raboteau

Pub Date: July 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8070-0932-6
Publisher: Beacon

A well-researched look at black Americans and religion, dispelling the notion that the slaves accepted their masters' beliefs without question. Raboteau (Religion/Princeton Univ.; Slave Religion, 1978) traces African-Americans' development of their own religious and moral values as they founded churches and institutions through which they could exercise these values. Part I offers a thorough, but by no means boring, history of how Christianity was presented to and propagated among the slaves. At the same time, the author shows slaveholders grappling with the conflict between their own Christian imperatives and the economic necessity of slavery. The author convincingly argues that black people's social and political lives were inextricably bound to their religious life until well into the 20th century. As resolution to their conflict with white Christianity, slaves began in the late 18th century to form their own separate churches, ultimately breaking away from the white denominations they had first known. ``These black churches not only formed the institutional core for the development of free black communities,'' states Raboteau, ``they also gave black Christians the opportunity to articulate their own vision of Christianity, standing in eloquent testimony to the existence of two Christian Americas.'' He identifies the changes prompted by the 20th-century migration to the North, which exposed blacks to religious doctrines other than the Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, and by shifts in social, economic, and political conditions that began with the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s, which ushered in black liberation theology and new challenges to American Christians, black and white. Raboteau cogently delineates a complex set of interrelated issues and gives evenhanded treatment to all sides in each religious debate. Comprehensive, clearly organized, and low-keyjust the kind of thoughtful, undogmatic approach this material needs.