Exploring the dynamics of African American religions in America

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Professor of Religious Studies Julius Bailey’s textbook, Down in the Valley: An Introduction to African American Religious History (Fortress Press, 2016), is named for a slave spiritual that he uses in his introductory course at the University of Redlands.

It was through teaching this course that he realized that a thorough text was needed. “I’d used a few different collections and texts, but there was no single comprehensive narrative that provided all the great resources available about African American religions. Trying to answer my students’ questions led to this book. It was almost a student-driven project.”

Studying African American religions as they go through time is especially interesting, he notes. “Because [people]were taken from Africa forcefully, subsequent generations didn’t know exactly where on the continent they were from. When you have a history taken from you, how do you go about finding a history for yourself?”

One of his favorite chapters in the book deals with new religious movements, including African American religions based on a belief in UFOs or ancient Egyptian ancestors. Many surveys of African American religions end with the Civil Rights movement, but Down in the Valley begins with traditional African religions and addresses African American religions’ themes and issues into the 21st century.

His current research looks at the 19th-century Black churches in the American West. “My passion is to see how Black preachers navigated the dynamics and built community networks.”

 

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