Given the unique history of African Americans and their diverse religious traditions -- seen in black Christianity, the Nation of Islam, Voodoo, and others -- is there one fundamental meaning to black religion in America? What is the heart and soul of African American religious life?
As a leader in both black religious studies and theology, Anthony Pinn has probed the dynamism and variety of African American religious expressions. In this work, which he also delivered as the Edward Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham, England, he searches out the basic structure of black religion, tracing the black religious spirit in its many historical manifestations. Pinn finds in the terrors of enslavement of black bodies and subsequent oppressions the primal experience to which the black religious impulse provides a perennial and cumulative response. Oppressions entailed the denial of personhood and creation of an object: the Negro. Slave auctions, punishments, and later, lynchings created an existential dread but also evoked a quest, a search, for complex subjectivity or authentic personhood that still fuels black religion today. Pinn's promising work offers a major new understanding of what it means to be black and religious in the United States.