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Article

Race and American Judaism  

Samira K. Mehta

Jews in America have had a complex relationship to race. At times, they have been described as a racial minority, whereas at other times, they have been able to assimilate into the white majority. Jewish status has largely depended on whether white Americans felt, in any given moment, socially secure. Jews have therefore fared better during times of economic prosperity. This social instability has strongly affected their relationship to African Americans. Jews, who have a strong sense of themselves as outsiders, have often identified with African American struggles but feared that overt solidarity would endanger their own status as white. Nevertheless, American Jews were disproportionately represented in the civil rights movements. Lastly, while American Jewish are predominantly Ashkenazi, which is to say of Central and Eastern European heritage, contemporary American Jewry is increasingly racially diverse, in part because of Jewish immigration from other parts of the world but also because of interfaith marriage, conversion, and adoption. This increased racial diversity has caused problems in the contemporary American Jewish community, but it is also changing the face of it.

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The Idea of Black Religion  

Jamil W. Drake

It is impossible to provide a conclusive definition of the idea of black religion; however, certain themes, tropes, and characteristics are typically associated with the “black” in black religion. These ideas are inseparable from the ideas of race in American history. The ideas of the religious differences (e.g., institutions, theologies, practices, or values) attributed to black people are not objective or neutral. Rather, these ideas about the differences of black religion are value-laden and shaped by larger debates about the moral and intellectual capabilities, social status, and/or political struggles of black folk in the United States. In this sense, the idea of black religion is inseparable from the larger discourse about black people and their place in the republic. Arguably, black religion was not a formal object of inquiry until the late 19th century, yet it often includes statements about the paganism, idolatry, and/or fetishism used to define “religion of Africa” in the colonial period. By the antebellum period, a cadre of voluntary African associations continued the ideas of pagan Africa that posited a redemptive [African] race that simultaneously sought to purify American religion from slavery and to civilize Africa from the ideas of primitivism. Throughout the 20th century, early studies of “black religion” were associated with ideas of social and moral uplift; race heredity; economic stress; transmission of Africanisms; and protest and liberation. In the end, black religion is intrinsic to U.S. intellectual and cultural history.

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The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora  

Walter C. Rucker

The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic. At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy

Article

Race and Religion in the United States  

Ryan P. Jordan

For centuries before the European colonization of North America, sectarian, ethnic, and racial discrimination were interrelated. The proscription of certain groups based on their biological or other apparently ingrained characteristics, which is one definition of racism, in fact describes much religious prejudice in Western history—even as the modern term “racism” was not used until the 20th century. An early example of the similarities between religious and racial prejudice can be seen in the case of anti-Semitism, where merely possessing “Jewish blood” made one inherently unassimilable in many parts of Europe for nearly a thousand years before the initial European conquest of the New World. Throughout Western history, religious values have been mobilized to dehumanize other non-Christian groups such as Muslims, and starting in the 16th century, religious justifications of conquest played an indispensable role in the European takeover of the Americas. In the culture of the 17th- and 18th-century British colonies, still another example of religious and racial hatred existed in the anti-Catholicism of the original Protestant settlers, and this prejudice was particularly evident with the arrival of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. In contemporary language, the Irish belonged to the Celtic “race” and one of the many markers of this race’s inherent inferiority was Catholicism—a religious system that was alternatively defined as non-Western, pagan, or irrational by many Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who similarly saw themselves as a different, superior race. In addition to the Irish, many other racial groups—most notably Native Americans—were defined as inferior based on their religious beliefs. Throughout much of early American history, the normative religious culture of Anglo-Protestantism treated groups ranging from African slaves to Asian or Middle Eastern immigrants as alternatively unequal, corrupt, subversive, or civically immature by virtue of their religious identity. Historians can see many examples of the supposedly dangerous religious attributes of foreigners—such as those of the Chinese in the late 19th century—as a basis for restricting immigration. Evangelical Protestant ideas of divine chosen-ness also influenced imperial projects launched on behalf of the United States. The ideology of Manifest Destiny demonstrates how religious differences could be mobilized to excuse the conquest and monitoring of foreign subjects in places such as Mexico or the Philippines. Anglo-Protestant cultural chauvinism held sway for much of American history, though since the mid-1900s, it can be said to have lost some of its power. Throughout its history, many racial or ethnic groups—such as Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, or Asian Americans in the United States have struggled to counter the dominant ethnic or racial prejudice of the Anglo-Protestant majority by recovering alternative religious visions of nationhood or cultural solidarity. For groups such as the 20th-century Native American Church, or the African American Nation of Islam, religious expression formed an important vehicle to contest white supremacy.

Article

Race and Catholicism in American History  

Justin D. Poché

Catholicism, as both an institution and a culture of popular beliefs, rituals, and values, has played an important role in the formation of racial boundaries in American society. The logic of race and its inherent function as a mechanism of social power, in turn, profoundly shaped Catholic thought and practice throughout the church’s own 400-year formation in America. Beginning with colonization of the New World, Catholicism defined and institutionalized racial difference in ways that both adhered to and challenged the dominant Anglo-American conceptions of whiteness as a critical measure of social belonging. Early Catholic missions abetted European colonialism by codifying Africans and Native Americans as cultural and moral “others.” Following a “national parish” system, institutional growth from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century sorted various European “races” and created spaces for resisting Anglo-American discrimination. The creation of a separate and singular mission for all “non-white” communities nonetheless reflected Catholic acquiescence to an American racial binary. Intra-Catholic challenges to racialist organization struggled to gain traction until the mid-20th century. As second- and third-generation European immigrants began asserting white status in American society, Catholic understandings of sacred space, which infused white resistance to neighborhood integration with religious urgency, and hierarchical ordering of moral authority within an institution that historically excluded non-whites from positions of influence created significant barriers to Catholic interracialism. The influence of the civil rights movement and the structural transformation of both Catholic life and urban communities where non-whites lived nonetheless prompted new efforts to enlist Catholic teaching and community resources into ongoing struggles against racial oppression. Debates over the meaning of race and American society and social policy continue to draw upon competing histories of the American Catholic experience.

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Race, the Law, and Religion in America  

Michael Graziano

The history of race, religion, and law in the United States is a story about who gets to be human and the relevance of human difference to political and material power. Each side in this argument marshaled a variety of scientific, theological, and intellectual arguments supporting its position. Consequently, we should not accept a simple binary in which religion either supports or obstructs processes of racialization in American history. Race and religion, rather, are co-constitutive. They have been defined and measured together since Europeans’ arrival in the western hemisphere. A focus on legal history is one way to track these developments. One of the primary contradictions in the relationship between religion and race in the U.S. legal system has been that, despite the promise of individual religious free exercise enshrined in the Constitution, dominant strands of American culture have long identified certain racial and religious groups as a threat to the security of the nation. The expansion of rights to minority groups has been, and remains, contested in American culture. “Race,” as Americans came to think about it, was encoded in laws, adjudicated in courts, enforced through government action, and conditioned everyday life. Ideas of race were closely related to religious and cultural assumptions about human nature and human origins. Much of the history of the United States, and the western hemisphere of which it is part, is linked to changing ideas about—even the emergence of—a terminology of “race,” “religion,” and related concepts.

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Alternative Religious Movements and Race in America  

Emily Suzanne Clark

Alternative religious movements have played a significant role in American history. There is no easy definition for these types of groups; their ideas and practices vary. One clear commonality, though, is their development on the sociocultural margins. Thus, inherent in alternative religious movements is a critique of dominant culture, and this offers a powerful means of engaging issues of race in America. Other groups, however, choose to echo prevailing racial ideas as a means of making themselves mainstream. The typical narrative of American religious history is white and Protestant, and alternative religious movements have provided both criticism and approval of that story. While a close look at every alternative religious movement would be impossible, even an abbreviated exploration is revealing. During the antebellum period the question of slavery and the white supremacy that supported it prompted alternative religious movements to ask questions about equality. While many Shakers and Spiritualists recognized value in all, other groups, like the Mormons, encoded contemporary racial assumptions in their early theology. Throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, African Americans and Native Americans criticized white supremacy by offering alternative explanations of humanity’s history and destiny. The 1890s Ghost Dance movement envisioned an Indian paradise devoid of whites, and in the early 20th century black alternative movements in northern cities emphasized the religious significance of their blackness. Though these groups criticized the white supremacy surrounding them, others continued to emphasize the superiority of whiteness. In the latter part of the 20th century, many Americans associated racialized alternative religious movements, such as the Nation of Islam, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and the Peoples Temple, with fear or brainwashing. In examining how alternative religious movements engage racial assumptions, articulate racial discourse, or create religio-racial identities, a study of these movements illuminates the interplay between religion and culture in American history.

Article

Pioneers of Islam in North America  

Earle Waugh

Pioneers bring new, distinctive, and transformative elements to the cultural matrix, building upon trends, perceptions, and situations. The concept of a pioneer as it has developed is itself problematic, since it presupposes a fixed cultural phenomenon applicable in a variety of instances and without attention to pre-existing groups, institutions, or cultural expressions that may have played a role in the “new” formation. Unfortunately, much of the treatment usually found under the term “pioneer” assumes a tabula rasa environment, but this is not the case in North America, as Dunbar-Ortiz eloquently indicates. Those pertinent to being designated “pioneers” focus attention on individuals and movements that established identifiable Islamic organized entities in North America. They built upon Islamic linguistic, cultural, and social orientations they either brought with them as immigrants or were present on the North American continent. “Pioneer,” thus, is understood to be flexible with regard to time frames, as well as the designation of “new.” Furthermore, since the geographic region of North America is itself diverse, separate analyses of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean are made here. This, despite arguments by some scholars on the vagaries of such hermetically defined entities, appears to be the most adequate format for this summary review. Indeed, there is ample evidence of crossovers between these countries. Because of Islam’s long interaction with Christianity, and European countries that crossed the Atlantic, it follows, then, that perspectives and biases from European Christianity would affect the religion’s growth in North America. In fact, Islamic influences, and Christian antagonism to them, were known in North America’s early European expansion on the continent; indeed, some played a role in North American cultural development. All the so-called world religions have adopted incorporative and encompassing strategies vis-à-vis older, traditional religious patterns; some have been aggressively missionary-oriented, while others have generally expanded by a process of osmosis. Apart from its early years, Islam has tended toward the latter pattern. It should not surprise us, then, that conflicts between Christianity and Islam should have been a subtext of Islamic growth throughout the world. With the widespread influence of Christianity in the conquests of the Americas and their subsequent occupation, it is reasonable to look for competitive factors of cultural influence as they interacted. Interreligious conflict played a role in the migrations of groups such as the pilgrims to the United States. Undoubtedly, the mixed relationship between European Christendom and the Muslim world played a role in early attitudes within the North American context, with Europe welcoming and expanding on Islamic scholarship in many areas of knowledge, while the Church was vigorously opposing Islam as a religion. Among other features of this history, there were, then, pre-existing conceptual understandings and trends open to pioneers for their usage and reaction. A cultural attitude of positive reinforcement of Muslim presence has been operational within Muslims themselves toward settling in new environments. It derives from Muslim cultural contexts and predisposes them to work positively within any new situation. Consider the concept of rihla, an old Arab literary trope often associated with Ibn Battuta (d. 1369) and religious journeys such as the hajj, a motif fully embraced by Islam from its early days. Believers espoused it as a way of relating to new realities—viewing their role as one of appropriating God’s world regardless of where they traveled. In effect, the whole world was God’s, and Muslims were welcome in it. Hence Islam also had the potential to be in North American because they to feel at home wherever God would lead. In contrast, Western scholarship has tended to emphasize the philosophical, legal and theological constructions of Islam in comparing it with Christian or secular realities; this may have skewed studies away from other realities in the development of this religion outside its original home. In this regard, most Muslim believers find solace in sociocultural dimensions, such as eid celebrations, Islamic rituals, food protocols, Qur’anic recitations, and popular religious symbols. The interaction of Islam in North America requires examining wider focus in determining its successes. From that perspective, the examination of Islam on the continent is in its beginnings. It should also be noted that those foundational to building new American institutions utilized various models of Islam available in different countries of the Islamic world. This has resulted in a multidimensional religious reality on the continent. Finally, various changing social attitudes are evident in North America’s history in relation to Islam and these have played a role in the religion’s ongoing development, such as the attractiveness of Sufism’s apparent passivism and, perhaps more, the role of conversion and antipathies like Islamophobia. These elements are all ongoing in the understanding of the way in which pioneer activities have taken place on the continent.

Article

Dance, Religion, and the Legacy of European Colonialism  

Kimerer LaMothe

In the waning days of the Renaissance, the race among Western Europeans to control, convert, and displace Indigenous peoples around the globe precipitated a collision of cultures, unprecedented in scope, between Christians who largely denied dance a constitutive role in religious life and Indigenous traditions from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas for whom dancing and religion were inseparable. In the economic, political, and cultural conflicts that ensued, the practice of dancing as religion emerged as a contested site—both a nearly universal target of Christian imperial and colonial oppression, and an equally frequent agent of Indigenous resistance, resilience, and creative response. Focusing on the United States, this article documents how European colonization of Native American people, and European and American enslavement of Africans precipitated cultural shifts in how each of these cultures conceived and practiced “dancing” in relation to “religion.” Among European and Euro-American colonizers, these collisions fueled some of the most virulent expressions of hostility toward dancing in Christian history—as an activity punishable by death—especially when that dancing appeared in the form of Native American or African American religion. Nevertheless, Native American and African American dancing also inspired Euro-American artists to create techniques and aesthetics of dance that they claimed functioned as religion. Such cases of religious art-dance in turn not only catalyzed the use of dancing in Christian worship, they spurred Western philosophers, scholars of religion, and Christian theologians to reconsider the importance of dancing for the study and practice of religion, Christianity included. Meanwhile, Native and African peoples, as they navigated the challenges of ongoing racism and oppression, created new forms of their own dance traditions. Some of these forms emerged in explicit dialogue with Christian forms and even in Christian contexts; and others have appeared on secular concert stages, representing ongoing efforts to preserve and perpetuate Native and African identity, spirituality, creativity, and agency. These projects are dismantling the conceptual typologies that Euro-Americans have used to devalue Native and Indigenous dancing, including the assumption that religion and dance are separable dimensions of human life.

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Muslims and Literature in North America  

Adam Yaghi

Muslim Americans have been producing literature and culture since the arrival of early waves of enslaved Muslims in the New World. Irreducible to a single entity, and yet victims to inexplicable omissions, they and their heterogeneous literary productions cannot be understood without proper historical contextualization. Tracing literary manifestations of Muslim Americans’ presence in the United States from before its inception into the 21st century not only uncovers popular American misrepresentations of Islam but also unveils rich Muslim American narrations that attempt to negotiate an often-contested Muslim America. Any critical treatment of this body of literature at this early stage can be neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. After all, Muslim American literature is not yet a distinct field or area of study and as such, seeking to authoritatively define the scope of what falls under the phrase “Muslim American literature” might prove a challenging task. Some common parameters, however, range from relying on the declared religious identity of examined authors, the religious themes pervading their texts, and the presence of Muslim sensibilities, to other parameters. In this context, Muslim Americans, Muslims, and Islam are heterogeneous identities; representations therefore vary based on political and other considerations. Indeed, Muslim American literary representations tend to oscillate between narratives and counter-narratives with vast gray areas between. Nonetheless, Muslim American literary productions demonstrate how a continuous intersection of different forces and currents informs the story of Muslim America: from religion, imperialism, and resistance to belonging, dynamic self-identification, and competing narrations. Muslim American literary texts also frustrate stereotypical misrepresentations, highlight Muslim American anxieties, expose oppressive regimes, debate nationalistic and alternate notions of citizenship, and regularly engage in multiple critiques. Still others ultimately reproduce orientalist, imperialist, or Islamophobic portraits. Muslim American literature therefore allows for and explores the possibility of multiple intersectional identities and critiques that move beyond imagining identity as constructed merely of a cultural, racial, political, religious, or class background. Muslim American literature further provides fertile ground for critiquing Western and hegemonic interests in a complex and transnational form.

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Religion, Modernity, and Assimilation in America  

Samira K. Mehta

Given that modernity, in its current configuration, owes much of its formulation to Protestant models of individualism and governance; and given that in the United States, religious minorities find themselves assimilating to Protestant religious norms and to a secular state that is similarly shaped by Protestant world views, it is often difficult to distinguish between “assimilating to the United States” and “wrestling with modernity.” Often, religious groups are doing both, but which they perceive themselves to be doing shapes their perceptions of the experience. Religious assimilation is closely tied to whiteness and therefore was more available to European immigrants who were Catholic or Jewish than to Native Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans, regardless of religion. That said, an examination of the concept of assimilation demonstrates that definitions or ideals of assimilation have varied throughout U.S. religious history.

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Race and Protestantism in America  

Lauren Frances Turek

The history of Protestantism in America is deeply intertwined with the histories of race and religious pluralism. Protestantism grew out of Martin Luther’s remonstrations against the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, and swiftly divided into a multiplicity of denominations and sects that spread across Europe, the Americas, and eventually the rest of the world. Luther believed that individuals gained salvation through God’s grace rather than through good works and that saved individuals belonged to the “priesthood of believers” and thus enjoyed direct access to God through their faith in Jesus Christ. Despite the significant differences that existed between Protestant denominations and sects, they shared these basic beliefs that salvation came through faith in Jesus Christ, that believers had an individual relationship with God, and that the Bible rather than a priest was the highest earthly authority. The Protestants who made their way from Europe to the Americas during the early 17th century derived from different denominational branches, including Puritans, Anglicans, Huguenots, Quakers, Lutherans, Anabaptists, and others, and came for diverse reasons, with some seeking an escape from religious persecution and others eager to reap a profit in the New World. They arrived to a vast continent that already boasted a multiplicity of peoples and religions, including indigenous Americans, French and Spanish Catholics, Jews, and Africans. Through their interactions with non-Protestant and non-European peoples, Protestants drew on their religious beliefs to make sense of the differences they perceived between themselves and those they encountered, defining and redefining the relatively new concept of “race” in the process. As Protestants established their faith as the dominant cultural, religious, and ideological force in North America, they used their religiously inflected definitions of race to create racial and religious hierarchies, enshrining white Protestantism at the apogee of these invented categories. These hierarchies influenced American law, politics, and culture from the colonial era onward. They delineated which peoples counted as “American” and who could and should possess the full rights granted to U.S. citizens in the decades and centuries after the American Revolution. These hierarchies, coupled with religious ideas such as the Protestant commitment to spreading the gospel, also shaped the transcontinental and international expansion of the nation, providing the impetus and justification for exerting hegemonic control over indigenous populations within and outside of the United States. At the same time, Protestant beliefs about freedom and the inherent dignity of the individual provided an ideological basis for African Americans, Latinx Americans, indigenous Americans, and a range of immigrant populations to resist subjugation. Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the separation of church and state created the opening for true religious pluralism. The diversity and evolution of American Protestantism and Protestant thought, as well as the role that Protestantism played in shaping and contesting American ideas about race and religion, influenced the development of American society and politics profoundly.

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Film and Religion in America  

Eric Michael Mazur

Religion intersects with film not only in film content, but also in the production and experience of film. From the earliest period, religious attitudes have shaped how religious individuals and communities have approached filmmaking as way to present temptation or salvation to the masses. Individual religious communities have produced their own films or have sought to monitor those that have been mass produced. To avoid conflict, filmmakers voluntarily agreed to self-monitoring, which had the effect of strongly shaping how religious figures and issues were presented. The demise of this system of self-regulation reintroduced conflict over film content as it expanded the ways in which religious figures and issues were presented, but it also shifted attention away from the religious identity of the filmmakers. Built on a foundation of “reading” symbolism in “art” films, and drawing from various forms of myth—the savior, the end of the world, and others—audiences became more comfortable finding in films religious symbolism that was not specifically associated with a specific religious community. Shifts in American religious demographics due to immigration, combined with the advent of the videocassette and the expansion of global capitalism, broadened (and improved) the representation of non-Christian religious themes and issues, and has resulted in the narrative use of non-Christian myths. Experimentation with sound and image has broadened the religious aspect of the film experience and made it possible for the viewing of film to replicate for some a religious experience. Others have broadened the film-viewing experience into a religious system. While traditional film continues to present traditional religions in traditional ways, technology has radically individualized audio-visual production, delivery, and experience, making film, like religion, and increasingly individualized phenomenon.

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African Americans and Religion  

Sylvester A. Johnson

Beginning with trans-Atlantic slavery, which forced hundreds of thousands of people into what is presently the United States, religion among African Americans consistently featured a complex of efforts toward innovation, preservation, and agential intervention rooted in efforts toward survival against structures of racial domination. Social factors including slavery, black responses to a range of political conflicts, influences of immigration, and the varieties of genealogies that have constituted religious formations among African Americans contributed to the creation of formal Christian denominations, intentional communities of Orisha, and transnational movements of Islam. Also important are the insurgent challenges that African Americans have proffered as a rejoinder to social oppression. But this progressive tendency has been paralleled by sharply conservative religious formations that check any easy generalization of African American religions as being predisposed toward social justice movements. Also important are social sources of autonomous church formation, the role of Black Nationalism, anticolonial forms of religion, and Yoruba revivalism of the mid-20th century.

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Khoja Isma’ilis in Canada and the United States  

Karim H. Karim

Khojas constitute the predominant group in the Shi’a Nizari Isma’ili movement of Islam, globally and in North America. They are of South Asian ethnicities and belong to the 700-year old Satpanth tradition. Other groups attached to the movement are indigenous to Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. Khojas have led them in the formation of a diaspora spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australasia. This transnational religious collectivity holds Aga Khan IV, who ascended to leadership in 1957, to be its Imam in lineal descent from ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib and Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. He has established a “Seat of the Imamat” (also designated a “Diwan”) in Lisbon, Portugal, and he resides in France, from where he provides religious and worldly guidance to followers around the world. The Imam appoints the leaders of the system of councils that govern the jamats (communities) in various countries. His non-denominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which operates social, economic, and cultural programs, has become one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Elite Khoja families, particularly those of East African provenance, tend to dominate the leadership of the Imam’s institutions. They also have hegemony in the Canadian and American self-governance structures. As a group, Khojas are the wealthiest and most educated in the movement, offering substantial funding as well as professional and voluntary services to the Aga Khan’s institutional infrastructure. Their North American ranks provide a steady stream of monetary, physical, and intellectual resources for the Imam’s transnational programs. However, a paradox lies at the heart of the movement. The Satpanth tradition and Khoja cultural identity has been in the process of marginalization since the early 20th century. A steady effort has sought to eliminate what are perceived to be “Hindu” aspects of the Khojas’ religious and cultural heritage. The movement’s research, educational and cultural bodies give minimal attention to Satpanth. An essentialized Isma’ili Muslim identity is favored over what was, since the movement’s earliest days, a pluralist pursuit of universal truth.

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Theology, Issues in North America  

Candace Mixon

Muslims have been present in North America long before the transatlantic slave trade; Western and North African Muslims were an (involuntary) part of “New World” expeditions as early as the 1500s. Muslims who arrived enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade were often prohibited from practicing, writing about, or discussing Islam. Later, immigration waves, new religious movements, and eventually dedicated centers for teaching about Muslims and Islam and centers of Muslim education and debate yielded sophisticated responses to the specific challenges and benefits of North American Muslim life. Authenticity and connection to Arabo-centric Islam have often characterized theological movements, while the variety of North American Muslim communities developed an ever-changing pallet of Islams and identity markers that still do not coalesce neatly into traditional theological schools. The concept and translation of Islamic theology, or kalam, does not map onto its comparative Christian counterpart. Kalam has historically been employed to define modes of correct Muslim practice within Muslim communities while defending against questions, attacks, or degradations by other religious groups. Islamic theology can be considered from two directions: foundations of practicing Islam that form Muslims’ obligations derived from many Qur’anic interpretations and through the discipline of theology, focused on the rational and technical inquiry of doctrines and arguments to determine correct practice. Both approaches delve into intra-Muslim dialogues, which are vital to the outcome of believers’ performance in this world to prepare for the next. North American experiences inform Muslim approaches to theology, whether attributed to transcontinental migration or developed within the boundaries of North America. Such approaches may sometimes be disparate or even oppositional, accumulated through the lack of a singular religious authority. Numerous leadership groups, histories, informal leaders, and recognized pathfinders who could be considered leading the charge to promote particular theologically driven movements in North America can be pointed to. At the same time, many Muslims in North America do not belong to any particular Muslim organization; they may connect with ethnic or regional communities instead. Tracing the history of Islam in North America is a framework for following North American approaches to theological debates that serve to create, police, or multiply the variety of Muslim experiences in North America. The decentralized development and diversification of Islam in North America contribute to a diversity of theological practices that are better embraced in their multiplicities rather than treated as a cohesive body.

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The Expansion of African American Muslim Movements beyond the United States  

Philipp Bruckmayr

Following the emergence of a variety of African American Muslim movements in the United States since the 1920s, Islam began to spread among African American and African Caribbean communities in a number of states in the Americas and the Caribbean as well as in Great Britain. There is little evidence for the expansion of early African American Muslim movements, such as the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam (NOI), beyond the United States in the first decades of their existence, but the process gained traction in the second half of the 20th century. By the 1970s, different originally US-based African American Muslim movements had acquired followings in Canada, England, and various Caribbean and South American states. These included not only the NOI, and its successor organization, the World Community of al-Islam in the West (later known as the American Society of Muslims), but also the Islamic Mission to America, the Dar-ul-Islam movement, the Ansaaru Allah Community, and the Islamic Party in North America. In addition, African Americans and African Caribbeans in different countries embraced Islam on a more individual basis, inspired by famous African American Muslims, such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. This transnational expansion of African American Islam represents a conversion process among African-descended populations, which has radiated not from the Muslim world but the United States across the western hemisphere and into Europe. Despite the international connections of some of the concerned movements, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States initially exhibited only limited discursive and personal links to either the Muslim world or established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern descent. By the 1980s, however, many of the US-based movements were in a state of disarray and disintegration. As a result, the ties of African American and African Caribbean Muslims to the United States were weakened and local tendencies toward emancipation from US organizations and models intensified. Concomitantly, at least in some locations, interactions with larger and longer-established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and/or Middle Eastern descent increased. Another major development during the period was the general growing exposure to transnational impulses from the Muslim world, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and South Asia. Against this background, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States have embarked on various paths of transformation, including toward more widely recognized Sunni (including Salafi) and Shiite expressions of Islam. Many communities have nevertheless retained a distinctly Afro-centric character, either in orientation or just in membership, without subscribing to a racialist theology. Notable cases in point are Trinidad’s Jamaat al-Muslimeen, the Afro-Colombian Shiite community of Buenaventura, and Suriname’s Sadaqatul Islam, as well as London’s Salafi Brixton Mosque. Individual African American and African Caribbean Muslim scholars and leaders, such as the Trinidadian Shiite Shaykh Ahmed Haneef or the Jamaican Jihadist preacher Abdullah el-Faisal, have, however, acquired followings and influence extending way beyond African-descended constituencies. Arguably, the most well-known African Caribbean scholar to date is the Jamaica-born Bilal Philips, one of the key figures of Salafi preaching in English.

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Race, Culture, and Religion in the American South  

Paul Harvey

The South still commonly appears as the land of the Bible Belt, of evangelical Protestant hegemony. Despite the rapidly increasing immigration from all parts of the world to the region, there is still justification for such a view. To study religion in the South, then, is to examine the influence of a dominant evangelical culture that has shaped the region’s social mores, religious minorities (including Catholicism, Judaism, and non-Christian immigrant religions), cultural forms, charged racial interactions, and political practices. In no other widely dispersed region, save for the Mormon regions of the Rocky Mountain West, does one family of religious belief and expression hold such sway over so many people and throughout such a large area. The biracial nature of evangelicalism in the South, as well, lends it a distinctive history and culture that alternately puzzles, repulses, and fascinates outsiders. The South may be the Bible Belt, but, like Joseph’s coat, it is a belt of many colors, embroidered with a rich stitching together of words, sounds, and images from the inexhaustible resource of the scriptures. The rigid Bible Belt conservatism associated with the common understanding of religion in the South contrasts dramatically with the sheer creative explosiveness of southern religious cultural expression. Indeed, southern religious influences lay at the heart of much of 20th-century American popular culture. And it contrasts with a rapidly changing contemporary South in which Buddhist retreat centers and Ganesha temples are taking their place alongside Baptist and Methodist churches.

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Civil Rights Movements and Religion in America  

Paul Harvey

In the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, black Christian thought helped to undermine the white supremacist racial system that had governed America for centuries. The civil rights revolution in American history was, to a considerable degree, a religious revolution, one whose social and spiritual impact inspired numerous other movements around the world. Key to the work was a transformation of American religious thought and practice in ways that deftly combined the social gospel and black church traditions, infused with Gandhian notions of active resistance and “soul force,” as well as secular ideas of hardheaded political organizing and the kinds of legal maneuverings that led to the seminal court case of Brown v. Board of Education. The civil rights movement had legislative aims; it was, to that extent, a political movement. But it was also a religious movement, sustained by the religious power unlocked within southern black churches. The historically racist grounding of whiteness as dominant and blackness as inferior was radically overturned in part through a reimagination of the same Christian thought that was part of creating it in the first place. In similar ways, the Mexican-American farmworkers’ movement drew on the mystic Catholic spirituality of Cesar Chavez and brought to national consciousness the lives and aspirations of an oppressed agricultural proletariat that lacked the most elementary rights of American citizens. American civil rights movements drew from, and were in part inspired by, the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement. Gandhi’s movement deeply influenced black Americans who visited India from the 1930s to the 1950s and who brought home with them a mixture of ideas and practices deriving from sources as diverse as Gandhi and the 19th-century American progenitor of nonviolent civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau. American civil rights movements subsequently became a model for any number of freedom movements internationally, notably including the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. There, religious figures such as Desmond Tutu became international symbols. Also, the black American freedom struggle based in the American South moved protestors in places as diverse as Czechoslovakia under Soviet domination and Chinese students staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In the post–civil rights era, some suggested that America had moved into a “post-racial” era, despite the overwhelming statistics documenting racial inequality in American society. Thus, activists who have mined the connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice will have plenty of work to do in the future. The struggle continues through such contemporary venues as the #blacklivesmatter movement.