Sylvester Johnson Talks African American Religion

The Author's Corner with Sylvester JohnsonSome of you may recall our Author’s Corner interview with Sylvester Johnson, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Religious Studies at Northwestern University. Johnson is the author of the recently published African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

In this interview with LA Review of Books, Johnson talks about his book with Monica Miller and Christopher Driscoll.

Here is a taste:

MM/CD: Historian of Religion Dr. Charles Long, whom many regard as the father of the academic study of African American Religion, has long argued that American religion and Euro-American religious impulses and discourses cannot be adequately understood without specific, focused attention to black religion. In other words, until (all) scholars of American religion take a long look at black religion, something will be missing from “their” work, and the story of American religion more generally. African American Religions works to cover much of this ground, conclusively demonstrating that the story of black religion is a story as much about Euro-American empire, as it is counter-narrative and response to empire and colonialism. As the book developed, who did you have in mind as your primary audience, and in what ways does African American Religions deconstruct long-held, uncritical, and racialized assumptions that tend to treat black religion with a kind of disciplinary segregation—as only significant for black people or scholars of black religion? What, if any, sorts of disciplinary interventions are made possible by the numerous epistemological interventions posed in and made by your book?

SJ: I wrote the book with scholars of religion in the Americas and African American Studies in mind. I also intended the book to address important questions about the material history of democracy and empire that might be of interest to political theorists. Because the book focuses on the intersection of religion and empire, it is meant to invite scholars of religion to consider the inextricable ties of that subject to colonialism, and vice versa. At the same time, the book is meant to deliver an overarching account of African American religions. Thus the title. I suspect that many people who might find the book quite relevant to their own work will forego doing so because of the title if they assume they are not interested in Black religions. As you indicate in your question, that is an unfortunate consequence of treating White religion as an unnamed universal (viz., American religion) while conceptualizing Black religion as overly particular, as a more provincial object of intellectual study.

Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “Sylvester Johnson Talks African American Religion

  1. Thanks Professor Fea for bring this book author interview to our attention. There’s so much to absorb, but I think it is one of the most insightful history book author interviews I’ve ever encountered. Kudos to Professor Johnson!

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