Religion: A Documentary History Project
Advice for Beginners
If you are looking for a general survey of African-American religious history:
Albert J. Raboteau, African-American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), is a survey history of the field written for general readers, especially secondary school students, by the editor emeritus of African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project. Available also in paperback edition as Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
If you are looking for a general overview of religion in the United States:
David W. Wills, Christianity in the United States: A Historical Survey and Interpretation (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), covers its subject in less than one hundred pages. Written by the general editor of the African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project, it outlines the history of American Christianity around these themes: the growth of religious pluralism, the quest for a “holy commonwealth,” and the encounter of blacks and whites. It places the history of Christianity in the United States in the larger context of the globalization of the Christian religion.
If you would like to read some original documents:
Milton C. Sernett, African American Religious History: A Documentary History, 2d ed. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999), is a single-volume collection of more than fifty primary documents, most of which were written by leading figures in the history of the black churches. It includes such materials as letters from some of the earliest American black Baptist leaders, the autobiographical narrative of Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a report by Nannie Helen Burroughs on the work of black Baptist women, and Martin Luther King, Jr.s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It has very little material, however, on Islamic movements or African-Caribbean religious movements among American blacks.
“Face Zion Forward”: First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785–1798, edited by Joanna Brooks and John Salliant (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002), reprints narratives and sermons by such early black preachers as John Marrant and David George.
God Struck Me Dead: Voices of Ex-Slaves, edited by Clifton H. Johnson, with a new introduction by Albert J. Raboteau (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1993), is a fascinating collection of conversion narratives gathered from ex-slaves in Tennessee in the late 1920s.
Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, edited by William L. Andews (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), contains the life stories of Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, and Julia Footethree women who were preachers.
Du Bois on Religion, edited by Phil Zuckerman (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press, 2000), reprints over two-dozen essays or book chapters on African-American religion written by W. E. B. Du Bois.
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), is a large, single-volume collection of many of Kings most important writings and speeches.
Sample documents on this website should also be consulted.
If you would like to sample some
of the growing scholarly literature about African-American religious
African-American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture, edited by Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau (New York: Routledge, 1997), is a collection of previously published essays by nearly two dozen scholars which touches on many different aspects of African-American religious life.
This Far By Faith: Readings in African-American Womens Religious Biographies, edited by Judith Weisenfeld and Richard Newman (New York: Routledge, 1996), is a collection of previously published essays by more than a dozen scholars which examines religion in the lives of sixteen very diverse black women.
African-American Religious Thought: An Anthology, edited by Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), is a one-thousand-page collection including previously published scholarly essays on black religious history from the slavery period to the present.
The North Star, founded by Judith Weisenfeld and currently edited by Anthea Butler and Yolanda Pierce, is an electronic journal on African-American religious history available to the public.
You should also consult the research resources available on this website.