Come Shouting to Zion and the development of African-American Religious Culture

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Come Shouting to Zion and the development of African-American Religious Culture Missing Works Cited In detailing the long process by which African-Americans came to embrace Protestant Christianity and shape their own unique form of it, Frey and Wood emphasize African agency throughout. Their case is better supported by evidence in the 19th century than in the 18th, during which time Christianity had little effect on slave society through the efforts of Anglicans, not so much because Africans rejected the gospel as because whites withheld Christian brotherhood from blacks. As blacks in the American South and in the British Caribbean struggled to develop individual and collective identities from the persistent remnants of African culture and their new conditions of life, the series of efforts by evangelicals to convert slaves eventually gave rise to a distinct African-American form of Christian theology, worship style, and religious community. The importance of religion among African Americans, as among all people, rests on fulfilling the human need for an understanding of one’s place in both the spiritual and temporal world. While it is difficult, as Frey and Wood concede, to know with certainty what lay behind Africans’ confessions of conversion to Christianity, we can understand how religion played a critical role in defining social relationships among slaves and between blacks and whites. Frey and Wood explain the appeal and success of Evangelicalism among slaves when they assert, “Deprived of their traditional supernatural means of dealing with recurrent life crises, [African-Americans] discovered in evangelical conversion requirements an opportunity to reassert personal authority based on their ability to communicate directly with God and to bring others to recognize the need for personal repentance and acceptance of Jesus” (109). One early example that supports this link between religious involvement and a sense of personal identity, if not between conversion and increasing social prestige or power, is found in a slave woman who tells Moravian missionaries that her people have come from across the sea and lost their father and mother, and therefore want to know the Moravians’ Father above. The displacement of Africans, for whom locality was critical to interactions with the spiritual world, did not deprive them of their religious cosmologies, but required them to learn the spiritual landscape of their new home and reshape their practices accordingly. Come Shouting to Zion details the many religious rituals that Africans preserved in the new world, especially those surrounding fundamental life events such as the birth and naming of children, marriage, burial ceremonies, and ritual dancing and singing to communicate with ancestors and deities.

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