From Publishers Weekly
With the recent controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, much attention has been recently paid to the topic of the black church in America. Yet historian Savage shows in her book that "there is no such thing as the 'black church.'Â " Countering the image of a monolithic institution, Savage instead portrays the theological, economic and social diversity within black churches. Through biographical vignettes, Savage spans the 20th-century black religious experience, focusing on the ever-present question African-Americans asked about the role their churches should play in the politics for racial justice. Savage's greatest contribution is her restoration of black women to a central place in black religious experience. Though women formed the vast majority of those in the pews, most historians have focused on the male ministers who led the congregations. Savage argues for the importance of Mary McLeod Bethune, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Fannie Lou Hamer, among others. A concluding chapter on Barack Obama and Wright smartly observes how Wright himself downplayed black religious diversity to make his defense of the black church. (Nov.)
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The debate about the role and relevance of religion in the social and political lives of African Americans has raged since the days of slavery. Historian Savage focuses on the period from the turn of the twentieth century, a time of tension between science and faith as more and more black Americans sought education and as racial inequalities and exploitation left black Americans as much in need of spiritual succor as ever. As black Americans adjusted to life in urban areas, and to the attendant racial discrimination and segregation, the black church became the only indigenous institution with the stability and influence to effect change within and outside the community, giving rise to the notion of “the black church” despite what was actually a great diversity of religious institutions. Savage focuses on diverse figures from the early 1900s through the current day, including Marcus Garvey, sociologist W. E. B. DuBois, and activist Marian Wright Edelman. She explores changes in how religion has been viewed and how it has been used as a political and social engine as much as for spiritual uplift. --Vanessa Bush