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Agency, Slavery, and African American Christianity

Agency, Slavery, and African American Christianity

(p.89) 4 Agency, Slavery, and African American Christianity
In a Shade of Blue
University of Chicago Press

American slavery and black Christianity remain important and contested sites in accounts of black agency. In Generations of Captivity, Ira Berlin insists that “the slaves' history—like all human history—was made not only by what was done to them but also by what they did for themselves.” This chapter examines how the trope of agency colors the histories of American slavery and shapes accounts of the role and function of African American Christianity within that relation of domination. It takes up Berlin's insistence on the agency of the slave within the context of this totalizing system of domination, doing so in light of Albert Raboteau's magisterial book Slave Religion. Through a reading of both authors, the chapter explores the vexing issue of positing African American Christianity as an instance of “slave agency.” It also examines the relation between the pragmatic view of experience and the idea of agency as well as John Dewey's reconstruction of experience.

Keywords:   slavery, Christianity, black agency, Ira Berlin, history, slave agency, Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion, John Dewey, experience

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