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African American Religions, 1500–2000
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This book provides a narrative historical, postcolonial account of African American religions. It examines the intersection of Black religion and colonialism over several centuries to explain the relationship between empire and democratic freedom. Rather than treating freedom and its others (colonialism, slavery and racism) as opposites, Sylvester A. Johnson interprets multiple periods of Black religious history to discern how Atlantic empires (particularly that of the United States) simultaneously enabled the emergence of particular forms of religious experience and freedom movements as well as disturbing patterns of violent domination. Johnson explains theories of matter and spirit that shaped early indigenous religious movements in Africa, Black political religion responding to the American racial state, the creation of Liberia, and FBI repression of Black religious movements in the twentieth century. By combining historical methods with theoretical analysis, Johnson explains the seeming contradictions that have shaped Black religions in the modern era.


'Not a conventional survey of African American religion, which might trace religious origins and developments, this book is a groundbreaking exploration of the conditions of possibility for thinking about African American religion. Transatlantic empires, colonial enclosures, and political engagements, as Sylvester Johnson shows, are more than historical contexts; they are forces of religious formation. The book is an important contribution to the study of African American religion and the study of religion.'

David Chidester - author of Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion

'Sylvester Johnson, through his exploration of the economies of space, time, and discourse, reorders the materialities of the Atlantic world formation, allowing for a fresh interpretation of African Americans, religion, and modernity itself. In this work, African American diasporic religion can be seen as an epistemological probe enabling a critique of regnant notions while opening up new sources of data.'

Charles H. Long - Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

'Sylvester Johnson’s book provides a new interpretation of the beginning and formation of what has often been termed a slave religion, but in a more refreshing and in-depth manner than previous books on the subject. This is an interdisciplinary work that bridges the gap between the old African spirituality on the slave coasts of Africa and the emerging New World religions practiced by Africans across the Atlantic. By so doing, Johnson has given new meaning to what African diaspora religions should mean in the discipline. The historical context in which he places the impact of colonialism, democracy, and freedom in the formation of slave religions surpasses what is available in the literature. This work will appeal to many disciplines, including religion, history, and African American and African studies.'

Jacob Olupona - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'This superb book locates African American religions in the context of the development of colonial empire in the Atlantic world. By placing religion in the conflicted network of geopolitics, economic exploitation, and ideological struggles over domination, race, and freedom, Johnson develops a fresh and sophisticated narrative of the history of black religion, freedom, and colonialism. This book will be mandatory reading for anyone interested in African American and Atlantic world history.'

Albert J. Raboteau - author of Slave Religion

'In this brilliant work Johnson offers an innovative examination and interpretation of the intersection of African American religions, colonialism, democracy, and freedom. He approaches the subject chronologically, in three time periods … A major contribution to the literature on African American religions, this book is a tour de force. Summing up: essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.'

L. H. Mamiya Source: Choice

'Johnson’s book provides a persuasive, innovative, and broader global framework to understand African American religions that should be required reading for current and future scholars of black religion and American religious history.'

Julius H. Bailey Source: The American Historical Review

'… Johnson’s African American Religions, 1500–2000 is a work of great clarity, passion and power that deserves deep and fervent reading for years to come.'

Juan M. Floyd-Thomas Source: Black Theology

'A century of work in slavery studies and critical race theory has exposed the terrors that underwrite American democratic freedom. Johnson’s ambitious text steps into this multifaceted conversation … and reinterprets the history of African American religion through the lens of its central arguments …'

Lucia Hulsether Source: Religious Studies Review

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