African Americans and Religion

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This article examines major themes in the history of African American religions. The religious systems that have emerged among African Americans have taken shape over several centuries. Their religions were deeply shaped by multiple social forces and institutions ranging from indigenous African religions, slavery, empire, missionary Christianity, commercialism, and the formation of racial blackness that emerged throughout Atlantic geographies beginning in the 15th century.

Blacks repeatedly participated in religious networks across multiple regions as a means of securing freedom, pursuing commercial opportunities, joining missionary ventures, or often reuniting with family members. Beyond their own agency, moreover, a range of social and particularly secular factors have shaped the formation of African American religions across multiple periods. These have included the violent creation of the United States of America in the 1770s as a white republic; the Haitian Revolution as the first black republic; the shifting alignment of Western empires (chiefly Britain, France, and Spain) controlling North America and West Africa; the conduct and eventual abolition of chattel slavery and the trans-Atlantic trade; and the 19th- and 20th-century civil rights movements devoted to establishing multiracial democracy.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages36
StatePublished - 2015


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