Title

"Tumultuous meetings" and the fury of freedom: Rethinking African American religion

Date of Award

2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religion

Advisor(s)

Charles H. Long

Keywords

Black religion, African American religion, Freedom, Religion, Slaves, Cultural stylistics

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Religion

Abstract

This dissertation argues that African American slaves resisted the dehumanizing effects of the slave system and claimed for themselves a fully human identity through the creation of a cultural stylistics centered around bodily enjoyments, music, drinking, socializing, joking, play, and festivity--a cultural stylistics which I refer to as "the party mode,"--and interprets this party mode not simply as a cultural activity, but as a religious activity.

The primary historical locus for the generation of this argument is the 17 th century Chesapeake where we find a historical coincidence between the passage of racist laws which relegated all black persons to a subhuman class and the emergence of large, "tumultuous" parties among the Afro-Chesapeakan slaves. The persistence of the "party mode" among the slaves is briefly traced, with special attention to the Pinkster festivals in New York and the festive modalities in Nat Turner's rebellion, illustrating how the "partying" functioned as a vehicle for resistance and identity creation in these contexts.

To make the argument for the "party mode" as a religious activity, the dissertation critiques reigning definitions of religion which exclude or subordinate the kinesthetic and sensorial modalities of human experience and activity, and develops an alternative definition of religion that foregrounds kinesthetic and sensorial experience as primary in the formation of religious consciousness. Key resources for the articulation of this alternative definition of religion are Charles H. Long's theory of the materiality of religion and Herbert Guenther's discussion of the religious consciousness as emerging within pre-linguistic, bodily-based experiences of "ecstatic spontaneity."

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