Reflections on History and Theology

Tag: slavery

Albert Raboteau on Slave Religion

When I’ve had the opportunity to teach the history of religion in America, I’ve regularly used Albert Raboteau’s Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans* (Oxford University Press, 2001). I recommend it as an accessible, evenhanded historical overview of the African American religious experience in the American colonies and the United States. 

A couple of decades before publishing Canaan Land, Raboteau wrote Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South* (Oxford University Press, 1978; rev. ed., 2004), which was based on his dissertation. That book became important in opening doors to a much-neglected area of American religious history. And it still deserves attention today for its insights. 

Chief among those insights is his tracing of the transformation of African religious practices as Africans were transported to the New World. This theme is echoed throughout the book and appears in different forms. 

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Frederick Douglass and the Hypocrisy of Antebellum Slaveholding Christians

“Of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”[1]

These words felt like a terrible blow as I was listening to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass*, an autobiographical account of Douglass’s life in slavery and eventual escape from it. 

Douglass is a remarkable figure in nineteenth-century America. He amazed the people of his day with his striking intellect and powerful oratory skills. His narrative was meant to validate his genuine slave background and further the abolitionist cause—a cause he championed with great force and effectiveness in the antebellum years. 

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