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Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952 Hardcover – July 25, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691115788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691115788
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,026,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2006 Illinois State Historical Society Award in Publications

"Passionately Human, No Less Divine is both meticulously researched and carefully written. Wallace Best has performed a thorough investigation of migration-era black churches that will benefit anyone interested in the shape of African-American religion and culture since."--Josef Sorett, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"[A] study brimming with insights."--Mark Noll, Christian Century

"[This book] makes an important contribution to the study of African American religion in Chicago during the Great Migration. . . . [It is a] pivotal text that will help scholars of American Religion and African American Religion to rethink the assumptions that Cayton's and Drake's as well as a host of other sociologists like W.E.B. Dubois, have placed upon our analysis of the African American Religious experience."--Anthea D. Butler, Church History

"Best's work opens the way for further research into the complexities of, not only African American religion, but also other religious traditions that have likewise suffered from historically inaccurate and ideologically suspect scholarly analyses. Scholars interested in urban and African American religion will find this text immensely rewarding. And to those interested in the effect that the southern religious ethos has had on the broader spectrum of American religion, this text is essential reading."--Adam Stewart, University of Waterloo

"This work makes a substantial and insightful contribution to the study of African-American Christianity and culture and, in particular, the role of the poor in the reconceptualisation of black faith."--Graham Duncan, Historiae Ecclesiasticae


This is a very significant contribution to the field. Best creates a convincing revision of the older interpretation of religion and migration in Chicago.
(Albert J. Raboteau, Princeton University ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Wallace Best grew up in Washington, DC in a family of southern migrants who moved from North Carolina when he was a child. Frequent trips to the South and stories from his parents and siblings about "down home" sparked his early interest in the links between North and South and rural and urban.

This interest grew into a passion during graduate school at Northwestern University, where he immersed himself in the scholarship of the Great Migration and the lives of the migrants themselves.

Having taught at the University of Virginia and Harvard Divinity School, he is now Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. His courses include those on The American Sermon, The History of Black Gospel Music, Sexuality and Religion, and Global Pentecostalism.

He lives in New York City.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By KD on November 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Passionately Human, No Less Divine, Wallace Best describes the difficulties blacks faced in migrating from the south to the north during the first half of the 20th century. Not only did they suffer from economic hardships and homesickness, but perhaps most daunting was the cultural transition from rural to urban life. Rather than portraying these migrants as vicitms, Best aptly focuses on the agency of these rural blacks in both their religious and everyday lives. Through an enlighening study and analysis, Best takes tremendous pains to show how rural blacks, and particularly black women, were not merely puppets in an established order, but agents in a rapidly shifting social order they themselves were bringing to pass.

Best dispels the myth perpetuated by many modern day sociologists that class differences were the main cause of divergent preferences in church membership and demonstrates that differences in church preference were largely determined by familial and community relationships that were brought with them from the south. In other words, one was most likely to attend the church one's relatives or hometown community attended, regardless of denomination.

Best highlights the work of two prominent black female ministers, Lucy Smith and Mary Evans, who, while very different in style and approach, each had trememdous impact on black culture in Chicago. With her more reserved style, Evans seemed to appeal to the more educated black population while Smith's more down-to-earth and emotional style seemed to captivate the hearts of southern blacks in a manner which reminded them of home and was a balm to their homesick hearts. Smith's focus on first tending to the physical and material needs of newcomers brought the masses to her doors.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By a reader on August 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
First, let me say that this book is so much more than a book of religious history. It is an interdisciplinary exploration of urbanization, migration, and religious change. It tells the story of the encounter of poor black sharecroppers with urban industrial life, and how both were transformed in the process. It tells this complex story through the lives and experiences of a handful of extraordinary men and women of faith--people like gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and preacher Elder Lucy Smith, whose 1930s radio hour was among the first to broadcast live worship services. Together they formed what Best calls `a new sacred order' in Chicago during the Great Migration.

Best knows the history of the black church like no one else. And he does not shy away from examining this transformation in all its complexity, including the tensions created by issues of gender, class, and sexuality. Indeed, Best maintains that one of the innovations of Great Migration religious institutions was an integration of the sacred and the secular--a church that struggled to be "passionately human, but no less divine." These were places of worship, but also places for meeting the more worldly needs of congregations. Women dominated many of these congregations and at least one was a major stop on the gay nightlife circuit of the 1930s. It was truly a time of cultural transformation, when the very meaning of "church" was up for grabs.

On finishing this remarkable book, you can almost hear the refrain of "sweet home Chicago" wafting out of a South Side storefront church. Amen.
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