Instructor: Dr. Josef Sorett, Visiting Professor of African American History (Union) and Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies (Columbia)
Date: Friday, April 1, 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm | Saturday, April 2, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Format: This two-day intensive course will be held online, through synchronous sessions. Registrants are expected to attend full-time, for both days.
Religion has been a complicated and contested, yet central, organizing force in the making of black life in America. At the same time, African American religious life has been the subject of much scrutiny throughout the history of the United States, serving arguments that advocated abolition, emancipation and full enfranchisement, but also functioning as evidence to justify enslavement and second-class citizenship. To better understand such phenomena, this 2-day public/intensive course provides a chronological survey that introduces students to a range of ideas and practices, individuals and institutions, as well as important themes and topics in African American (thus American) religious history. Primary attention is given to Afro-Protestantism in the United States; however, throughout the course attention is directed to religious diversity and varying religious traditions/practices in different diasporic locales. Guest speakers will include The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas (Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union and Bill and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology, Union) and Dr. Lerone A. Martin (Director, Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute and Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford).
The required course reading is Raboteau, Albert. Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans (OUP, 2001). Students are also encouraged, but not required, to read Sernett, Milton. African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Duke, 2000).
Josef Sorett is Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, where he is also chair of the Department of Religion and directs the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice. As an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and race in the Americas, Josef employs primarily historical and literary approaches to the study of religion in black communities and cultures in the United States. His first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2016) illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture across the 20th century. A second book, The Holy Holy Black: The Ironies of an American Secular, is forthcoming with Oxford UP. Additionally, Josef is editing an anthology, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches, which will be published by Columbia University Press.
Josef’s scholarly work has been supported with grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leone B. Carpenter Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Louisville Institute, the Forum for Theological Exploration, and Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music. His research has been published in academic journals and anthologies; and his writing and commentary have also appeared in a range of popular media outlets, including ABC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as on the BBC and NPR.