RELST 338 – African American Religious Experience: Course Description


This course will examine the history and variety of African American religious experiences, from its African roots to contemporary religio-cultural expression. Heavily influenced by its encounter with Protestant America, the African American religious experience is one of great depth and breadth, and incorporates elements not found in European Protestantism but brought into the matrix of experience from Africa, the Caribbean, and various non-Protestant religious traditions. The African American religious experience has been as much as response to surrounding conditions as it has been a creative blending of old world and new; as much a response to racism as it has been to universal religious aspirations.

Students will encounter various aspects of African American religious experiences, and will explore some of the dilemmas members of these communities have faced as they have grappled with the religious, social, economic, and political landscapes of country, and encountered other religious traditions, cultures, and ideas.


By the end of the semester, students enrolled in this course:

Should be familiar with some of the history and variety of African American religious experiences in the United States;

Should understand some of the connections between elements of that history and the range of experiences expressed in contemporary American society; and

Should understand the complexities involved in grappling with the multiform expressions and the interaction of religious communities of all sorts in American society.

Texts & Readings

The following texts are available at the VWU bookstore. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but should check with me to be certain you are purchasing the proper edition(s).

Cone, James H. Black Theology & Black Power. (CONE)

Dorman, Jacob S. Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions. (DORMAN)

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier. (FRAZIER)

Gomez, Michael A.  Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (GOMEZ)

Harvey, Paul. Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity. (HARVEY)

Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South, updated ed. (RABOTEAU)

In addition, articles may be distributed occasionally in class or linked to the class Web site.



In-Class Participation (30 points):

You are expected to attend all classes and complete all assignments. In addition, you are expected to participate fully in class discussions and engage the materials in class. Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category; mindless blather will not. In addition, on occasion I will engage you directly in informal conversation about the materials during class, and will evaluate you based on your ability to discuss the materials substantively and meaningfully.

Reading Responses (5 x 10 points, or 50 points)

Five times during the semester you will submit before class a response to the reading assigned for that class. This response should only briefly summarize the reading; most of the response’s energy and space should be occupied by an analysis of the reading in terms of what it might mean in terms of contemporary religious experience / society.

[In other words, after you have completed the reading, answer the following question: How does the material covered in the reading relate to what you might think, know, or see expressed in any African American religious experiences?]

Final Response (20 points)

On the last regular class meeting, you will be given a reading to analyze it in terms of our class discussions and past assigned readings. You will be evaluated based on how well you integrate those materials (by making specific reference to their contents and ideas), how much of those materials you are able to integrate, and how creatively insightful you are about those materials. Additional reading / research will not be required, but will not be discouraged.

Unauthorized assistance or evidence of any willful breech of academic integrity will be dealt with in the most severe manner.

General Classroom Policies