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  • Writer's pictureSam Baldwin

"Unwavering Faith": Black-American Spirituality's Roots

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“The church is, and always has been the center of African American life - a place to call our own in a too often hostile world.”

- Barack Obama


In my last blog post, I touched a little bit on the lack of extended academic research on the experiences of Black-American spiritual people. I can’t help but suppose that this is rooted in the lack of respect and acknowledgment of black religiosity, which dates back to when African people were first stripped from their homeland and forced to come to the United States. I had to do some intense digging to find even a sliver of information on the subject, but what I found was extremely illuminating for my reading of Anya’s adaptation, especially in regard to her characters and how they interact with the world and situations they find themselves in.

Black-American people came to this country against their free will. We were, hopefully, taught this in all of our elementary school classrooms. They were brought here with their own well-established religions already engrained within their identity, but their captors forced them to adopt Christianity, the predominant belief of the country. During this forced conversion, Black-Americans were not allowed to read the Bible that they were expected to follow and believe in. They were not only in a physically and mentally captive state, but their spirituality was also under siege by their captors. While many Black-Americans did convert to Christianity, they combined these beliefs with the already firmly-held religious beliefs of their homeland. They saw the power that God had given Jesus and other exploited and persecuted people, and they created an entirely new image of God and their spiritual identity. I find it so interesting that Black-American people can take this God and this spirituality that was used as a tool of oppression and turn it into an anchor of their strength. Many Black-American people relate much of their identity as a black person to their spirituality.

Their beliefs of equality, power, and community are harshly juxtaposed with the historical, and modern, Christian spirituality, which is sometimes used as a direct tool of oppression; there are those that use the Christian doctrine to support their ideals of white supremacy. I’m reminded of the very recent Charleston Church shooting, where a known white supremacist entered a Black-American religious space, a sacred space, and murdered nine church-members, including Pastor and Senator Clementa Pinckney. The murderer touted his own warped views of Christianity to justify the outright murder of other Christian people. It’s shocking to me that these two groups can have grown from the same roots.

All of this research has been very helpful to me in my understanding of Anya’s adaptation. Seeing where her characters are coming from in their beliefs has made me connect with them. As I go forward, I am looking towards sources that do not only focus on the Christian side of Black-American spirituality. I am looking for instances of “the sight” in African-American spirituality and culture, and how that plays into the overarching experience of a black, spiritual person in the historical and modern world. I am drawn to the Non-Denominational Black churches, as well as Black Spirituality that has no ties to organized Western religion. I am excited as to where this research is taking me in my further understanding of all the characters, and the world, of Anya’s play.

Further Reading

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