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Gods in AmericaReligious Pluralism in the United States$
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Charles L. Cohen and Ronald L. Numbers

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199931903

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199931903.001.0001

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“Finding Light through Muddy Waters”: African-American Religious Pluralism

“Finding Light through Muddy Waters”: African-American Religious Pluralism

(p.283) Chapter 12“Finding Light through Muddy Waters”: African-American Religious Pluralism
Gods in America

Stephanie Y. Mitchem

Oxford University Press

Discussions of pluralism in African-American religious life flatline in mainstream scholarship. Religious diversity and religious pluralism are given short shrift as statistically insignificant in black communities and thereby rendered invisible. In fact, religion within black communities historically as well as contemporaneously has never been as monolithic as scholars and the media ordinarily portray it; for instance, even when slaves practiced Christianity, they understood it quite differently than did their masters, even those in the same denomination. The idea of a monolithic “black church” is a historical construction of the 1970s-1980s, which appealed to both blacks and whites, though for different reasons. This picture homogenizes history and overrides the researches of black scholars who, earlier in the twentieth century, recognized that African-Americans practiced a variety of traditions. More careful analyses of African-American religious pluralism will need to consider cultural factors, racial content, economic disparities, and the presence of non-Christian traditions.

Keywords:   African-Americans, Carter G. Woodson, C. Eric Lincoln, James H. Cone, the “Black Church”, “invisible institution”, non-traditional African-American religions

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