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Ain’t Gonna Lay My ‘Ligion Down: African American Religion in the South. – book reviews

Convinced of the connection between religion and culture, Alonzo
Johnson and Paul Jersild have attempted to contribute to a greater
understanding of African Americans and their culturally religious
ideas. Ain’t Gonna Lay My `Ligion Down: African American Religion in
the South moves toward this end by examining aspects of the
connectedness of Black and southern religion and culture.

The authors assume that Africanisms have not been obliterated in
the lives of the diaspora in the United States. Instead, certain
Africanisms have survived among African Americans and these residuals
are particularly present in southern religious culture.

Johnson’s chapter concerning the “Pray’s House Spirit” among
Christian churches in South Carolina describes a world that is shaped
particularly by the religious impulses and practices of Lowcountry
South Carolinians and the Gullahs. These communities of faith created
identities, expectations and ways of validating the religious
authenticity of African Americans against the backdrop of racial

Jon Michael Spencer’s essay, “The Rhythms of Black Folks,”
associates African rhythm with African spirit. Recognizing a consistent
manifestation of rhythm in traditional African cultures on the
continent and the role of rhythm throughout aesthetic expressions in
the diaspora, Spencer seeks to show how rhythm is a major strand of
continuity woven through the history and development of African
peoples. This argument identifies rhythm as an Africanism resilient
enough to have survived racist efforts at annihilating anything African.

Positing the indestructibility of rhythm, Spencer asserts that
rhythm conveys — and is conveyed by — the culture of African peoples
through spirituals, blues, Renaissance aesthetics, preaching, and rap.
Consequently, he maintains that rhythm is foundational to — and
characteristic of — Black music, that music is the principal source of
Black religious ritual, and that rhythmic ritual is the place from
which Black culture rises.

William Courtland Johnson’s contribution about the morality of the
Brer Rabbit Tales launches a frontal assault on a genre of scholarship
which argues that the tales have an irrationally amoral Brer Rabbit.
Johnson offers a precise and serious critique of some of Lawrence
Levine’s interpretations of the amorality of Brer Rabbit. Not that
Levine stands alone in his positions, but the notability of Levine and
the position he takes is representative of a direction of scholarship
with which Johnson takes exception. Johnson forcefully asserts that the
embrace of African cultural and spiritual traditions along with
Christianity yields a morality that is committed to — and consistent
with — God’s resolute justice. It also yields a morality that
envisions an ultimate idea of salvation.

Jacqueline D. Carr-Hamilton’s discussion of motherwit in southern
religion is a creative argument about the importance of the wisdom and
teaching of African and African American women. She sees womanist
thought in the tradition of motherwit. To say it differently, she views
motherwit as prototypical womanist consciousness. And, she gives an
intriguing discussion of womanist musing about motherwit that speaks to
women and men alike.

Carr-Hamilton’s drawing on Christian theology, Yoruba religious
perception, fictional literature, and autobiography allow her to
discuss religious consciousness in the broadest sense. Consequently,
her argument for the rich wisdom tradition of motherwit escapes the
constraints of an exclusively Christian orientation when one speaks of
African American religion. At one point she testifies to having heard
God reveal Godself through a call to preach. Then she later tells of
hearing God say, “I am Olodumare [God almighty to the Yoruba].”

Stephen W. Angell and Sandy Dwayne Martin offer two interesting
chapters on the leadership qualities of individual Black preachers. The
figures on whom they focus serve to enlighten readers about the
multidimensional qualities of these — and other — Black southern
preachers. The personal, prophetic and political dimensions of these
subjects have important implications for advancing the causes of
African Americans.

This collection makes a helpful contribution to historical
scholarship on African American life and religious consciousness in the

It is not intended to be a definitive statement. Rather, it seeks
to make a contribution to the ongoing scholarly efforts to gain greater
insight to African American religion and culture, particularly as it
has been expressed in the South.

Dr. David Emmanuel Goatley is an assistant professor of theology and
African American studies at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis,

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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