Published Date

May 21, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom, Video


African American, Cultural, Political, Religion, Social

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


United States

This event was part of the May 2016 conference The Future of the African American Past, co-hosted by the American Historical Association and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“What Is African American Religion?” explores the centrality of religion to African American culture. Though Protestant Christianity is known to be the normative topic of study, the panelists push for a more nuanced understanding of the African American religious experience, arguing that Black communities practiced a multiplicity of faiths.



Speakers and Contents

  • 00:12 – Introduction by Lonnie Bunch (NMAAHC) and Jim Grossman (AHA)
  • 11:12 – Edna Greene Medford (Howard Univ.) introduces the panel by discussing the ways African Americans fought to preserve their sacred beliefs.
  • 17:21 – Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (Princeton Univ.), citing his 2010 essay “The Black Church is Dead,” argues that common terms like “African American religion” and “the Black Church” fail to adequately describe the complexity and ambiguity of religious experiences, especially non-Protestant faiths.
  • 26:59 – Judith Weisenfeld (Princeton Univ.), using images to frame her presentation, highlights non-Christian religious groups such as Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam.
  • 39:31 – Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Harvard Univ.) discusses the historical focus on “Bible politics,” or the ways in which Biblical conceptions of justice have shaped African American political ideas for social transformation.
  • 57:20 – Anthea Butler (Univ. of Pennsylvania) expands on Glaude’s call to abolish the conception of “the Black Church” and argues that refocusing on alternative narratives will bring historians closer to “the whole story” of African American religious history.