The purpose of this Unit is to recover the sources and histories related to the religious experiences of African-descended people in the United States; challenge, nuance, and expand theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of African-American religions; and create forums for critical, creative, and collaborative engagement with new scholarship in the field. The Unit is committed to the historical investigation of the diversity of U.S. African-Americans' religious experiences across chronological periods.
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Afro-American Religious History Unit
Call for Proposals for November Meeting
The Afro-American Religious History Unit invites proposals that explore the religiosity of African-descended people within the geographical and geo-cultural boundaries of the United States. For our 2024 Annual Meeting in San Diego, we are especially interested in proposals for papers, panels, roundtables, or creative presentations that engage one or more of the following topics:
Sources from the Archives of African American Religious History: A History with Violence, of Non-Violence, from the Margin and Center.
In conjunction with the AAR 2024 theme, “Violence, Nonviolence and the Margin” we solicit submissions for a roundtable on Sources from the Archives of African American Religious History. This year’s conference theme invites us to focus on violence, nonviolence and the margin. In this light, African American religious history (AARH) rooted in African traditions, Islam and Christianity emerged in the context of violence: capture, enslavement, political exclusion, economic marginality. This history also encompasses not just expositions of ideas in support of non-violent strategies present in civil rights movement activism but also deep discourses and debates about its efficacy and viability. In addition to histories of violence, theories of nonviolence, and debates about the efficacy of nonviolence, the archives of AARH also offer instances of transforming violence, reparations and violent struggles for liberation rooted in Black religious ideas, communities and traditions like enslaved uprisings, Black nationalist movements, and anticolonial struggles across the diaspora. In this way, AARH invites us to rethink what we mean by "violence" and its legitimacy in the first place. When viewed through the kaleidoscope of power, margins and centers shift depending on the vantage point along axes of institutionality, sexuality and sexual orientation, color, class, geography and more. Figures whose thoughts and activities have contributed to this landscape include: Callie House, Queen Mother Moore, Mariame Kaba, Andrea Ritchie, David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Gloria Richardson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, and Ella Baker.
We invite paper proposals for inclusion on this roundtable about sources from the archive that illuminate these aspects of this year’s conference theme.
Author meets Respondents session on Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South with Laura McTighe and Deon Haywood (Co-sponsored between the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Unit and Afro-American Religious History Unit)
We are also planning an author-meets-respondents session on Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South with Laura McTighe and Deon Haywood focusing on the themes of social organizing, Black feminist liberation, collaborative scholarship, ethnography, the context of the American South, or other facets relating to Fire Dreams. Please email Annie Blazer (email@example.com) if you would like to be considered as a respondent.
Politics and Black Religions: A History of Engagement
Closed to submissions. 2024 marks the anniversaries of Jessie Jackson’s historical first presidential campaign (40th) Freedom Summer, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Malcolm X’s establishment of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. (60th, 1964). These moments reflect important examples of the varied expressions and interactions between Black religions and the political sphere through electioneering, organizing, and critique. In light of these historic events, we will host a roundtable reflecting on these various iterations at the institutional, individual, social and communal levels. Of special concern in this conversation will be both the expansive and limiting ways that intersections of Black religions and politics have been considered as opening up spheres of influence, generating political critique, and as sites of gendered power and struggle.
In general, the unit would be very excited to receive papers, roundtables and panel proposals on any of the following topics:
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Sylvester Johnson’s The Myth of Ham (2004)
This panel celebrates the 20th Anniversary of Sylvester Johnson’s The Myth of Ham and invites works that reflect on the ways that race and religion intersected in the 19th and 20th centuries. Johnson demonstrated the cultural history of the Hamitic Thesis in great detail showing how this idea was used to craft a black other and how black people contended with this idea. Since that time, studies have explored concepts like heathen, ‘religio-racial’ and fetish to deepen our understanding of the historical and cultural construction of racial others in and through religion and how black folks in particular have contended with these concepts.
Retheorizations of the geographical and cultural boundaries of African-American Religion in relationship to the concept of the West and the Borderlands, specifically:
- Historic movement to, and practices of, African-American religions in the West and on the Borderlands of “America”;
- Interactions with and conversations about relationships with Indigenous communities and their religious practices in the West by Black religious practitioners;
- Afro-Spanish, Afro-Indigenous, and other intercultural religiosities;
- Concepts of space, the embodiment of space, and boundaries in African-American religion;
- Black religions among asylum seekers and within immigrant communities in America;
- The impact of immigration upon enactments and definitions of African-American religions.
African American Religions in slavery and freedom
- Relations between enslaved and Indigenous people;
- Policing of religious communities and practices during slavery and after emancipation and strategies of evasion, resistance and reframing;
- Formation of independent churches during slavery and after emancipation;
- Influence of government institutions on the Black religious expressions and geographies;
- Oral and aural literacies and the propagation of Black spirituality;
- Persistence of cultural practices like the ring shout, performance of hymns after emancipation;
- Formation of complex Afro-Protestant institutions (HBCUs, Prince Hall Freemasons / Order of the Eastern Star, Greek organizations).
Black Religions and property, land, environment
- Historical markers and historical black church communities;
- Process of securing historical status;
- Intersections between religious communities and landholding, environmental issues and activism;
- Court cases regarding burial grounds and property disputes.
African-American Religion and climate catastrophe, broadly configured, particularly:
- Historical topics that elucidate contemporary environmental landscapes and futures, especially in light of climate catastrophe and its impact on Black communities;
- The legacies and impacts of migration patterns and how they have and continue to shape practitioners of African-American religions;
- African-American religions and the environment, nature, and the land.
African-American Religion and so called “illicit” practices, specifically:
- Black religious communities, carceral systems, and the (de)criminalization of recreational substance use;
- Histories of African-American religion and narcotic and/or alcohol use, broadly configured (ritual, entheogenic, recreational, medicinal, etc.);
- Black religious communities and religious activism in relation to the history of other practices criminalized or deemed illicit, especially queer sex, sex work, pornography, and other practices.
Redressing the historiographical dearth of LGBTQI+ African American religious histories, specifically:
- The theoretical possibilities of “queering” African-American religion;
- The historical presence of gender nonconformity, gender fluidity, and a spectrum of sexualities and genders physically and conceptually within Black religious communities;
- The methodological and theoretical limitations of heteronormativity and gender normativity;
- The intersections of Black trans studies and African-American religions.
Histories and historiographies of African American Religious History
- Generations of historical writing on African American religions;
- Transitions and currents in thought about African American religions
- Themes and paradigms in the interpretation of African American religious histories: sacred vs. secular, excited worship, opiate vs. catalyst, etc.;
- Periodizations and turning points in history;
- Beyond history: limits and challenges of the archives;
- Tracing themes in African American religious history: migration, regional conflict; urbanization;
- Transition from church history to religious studies.
Intellectual Trajectories in the Study of African-American Religion - Highlighting Graduate Student Work:
- Proposals for five to seven minute presentations of term papers, dissertation chapters drafts or other short pieces in development are especially welcome.
- The steering committee is open to configuring this session as a conversational space for works-in-progress with comments from a faculty member.
Guidelines for successful/strong proposal submissions
Successful proposals should:
1) respond directly to the call;
2) engage historical and interdisciplinary archival methods and name sources used or examined;
3) situate the intervention(s) in historiographical context by engaging relevant authors and key texts, but only as necessary; and
4) indicate time period and relevance to the field of African-American religious history.
We also invite creative proposals that are attentive to alternative methods of presenting, including but not limited to multimedia presentations, interviews, flash/micro talks, fireside chats, and facilitated discussions.
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Judith Casselberry, Bowdoin College1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
Matthew Cressler, College of Charleston1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Harvard University1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Jathan Martin, Yale University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
Laura McTighe, Florida State University1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Joseph Stuart, Brigham Young University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Alexia Williams, University of Illinois1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027