African American Culture 5

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Question# 4: African cultures, by and large, bring a similar world view to the relationship between man and the spiritual realm, one that is marked by an extremely personal interaction. In the broader African spiritual world human beings are seen to be under the constant influence of other people, their ancestors, minor deities, the Creator, and various forces of nature. As a result the African spiritual world can be described as interactive since all things are endowed with life-force. How is this idea expressed in ritual approaches to morality, wrongdoing, and spiritual empowerment?

African American religion has always been heavily involved and influenced by the notion of morality, wrong doing and spiritual empowerment since the slave days if not earlier, African Americans came to embrace Protestant Christianity and adapted their own version of it which is consistent with evidence in the 19th century and a little bit of the 18th, at the time Christianity had little effect on slave society through the efforts of Anglicans, but it was not because African Americans rejected the gospel but because whites seized Christian brotherhood from blacks. As blacks in the South and in the British Caribbean struggled to develop individual and collective identities from the ideas and ways of African culture and their new conditions of life, the series of efforts by evangelicals to convert slaves eventually gave rise to a distinct African-American form of Christian theology, worship style, and religious community.

The importance of religion and having their own take on it is among African Americans, as among all people, rests on fulfilling the human need for an understanding of one’s place in both the spiritual and temporal world. Although it was difficult, African Americans discovered in evangelical conversion requirements an opportunity to reassert personal authority based on their ability to communicate directly with God and to bring others to recognize the need for personal repentance and acceptance of Jesus. A perfect example that supports the connection between religious involvement and a sense of personal identity, is found in a slave woman who, back then it was not common for them to tell missionaries that her people have come from across the sea and lost their father and mother, and therefore want to know the Father. The displacement of Africans, for whom locality was critical to interactions with the spiritual world, did not strip them of their religious identity, but required them to learn the spiritual landscape of their new home and reshape their practices accordingly. “Come Shouting to Zion” details the many religious rituals that Africans preserved in the new world, especially those surrounding fundamental life events such as the birth and naming of children, marriage, burial ceremonies, and ritual dancing and singing to communicate with ancestors and deities. The influence of Africans with many diverse but fundamentally similar cultures in a strange new land encouraged slaves to form new pan-African cultures, which grew increasingly popular as later generations of slaves were born into bondage in America, establishing a distinct African-American culture. The pidgin African-English is a prime example of Africans in American creating a system of communication that was not traceable to a particular African ethnic origin, nor was it a perfect imitation of American English, but was instead shared by blacks in America. As slaves first encountered a foreign language that whites wished them to learn well enough to be more productive but not well enough to pose a threat to the race-based socioeconomic hierarchy, so they became acquainted with Christianity at the will of whites, but when given the opportunity, appropriated it for their own purposes.

In the early encounters between slaves and Christianity it is without question that African, and particularly American-born slaves, sought a spirituality that...
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