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Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions

Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions


The Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions, the second volume in the acclaimed Religion and Society series, breaks fresh ground on the subject of African and African-American religion and its influence throughout the world.


The Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions breaks fresh ground on the subject of African and African-American religion and its influence throughout the world. Written and edited by an international team of anthropologists, historians, theologians, and other experts, this valuable resource offers authoritative and accessible insights into the religious movements and churches of Africa, North America, South America, and the Caribbean, their wide-ranging impact on peoples, politics and cultures of these and other regions.

Editor Stephen D. Glazier, Human Relations Area Files, Yale University, writes:

In what were perhaps his most conciliatory remarks concerning African-American religion, scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois (whose Autobiography is now published by Berkshire) wrote in The Gift of Black Folk (1924) that:

Above and beyond all that we have mentioned, perhaps least tangible, but just as true, is the peculiar spiritual quality which the Negro has injected into American life and civilization. It is hard to define and characterize it – a certain spiritual joyousness, a sensuous, tropical love of life, in vivid contrast to the cool and cautious New England reason; a slow and dreamful conception of the universe, a drawling and slurring of speech, an intense sensitiveness to spiritual values – all of these things and others like to them, tell of the imprint of Africa on Europe in America. There is no gainsaying or explaining away this tremendous influence of the contact of the north and south, of black and white, of Anglo-Saxon and Negro.

As might be expected over such a long and varied career, Du Bois changed his mind about religion many times. He was especially ambivalent about the role of religion in promoting social change, and by the middle of the twentieth century saw religion as an overwhelmingly conservative force. But he was always willing to reconsider his position. His biographer David Levering Lewis (1995) notes that in 1955 Du Bois – at that time thoroughly agnostic and anticlerical – said of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts that he had “expected to live to see many things, but never a militant Baptist preacher.”

This volume, which was first published in 2000, focuses on black religion, its place in African and African-American societies, and its impact on society in general. It fills a gap in the growing reference literature on Africa and African America providing an authoritative guide to the religions of African and African-American peoples with special attention to New Religious Movements in Africa and religions of the African Diaspora in North America, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Many African-American religions such as Santeria, Vodou, and Rastafari are products of contact between Western world religions (such as Christianity and Islam) and indigenous African traditions. The influence of African American religions has extended to Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific.

This volume is unlikely to be superseded. What was – and is – most notable about this volume is that a majority of contributors conducted first-hand research among the people they wrote about. The 145 articles were written by 72 scholars from thirteen nations including Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada.  The majority of contributors (including the editor and co-editors) were trained in Anthropology.  Many entries — including those on Costa Chica, Mexico; Ifa; Rastafari; Santeria, Material Culture; Spiritual Baptists; Baptists; and Storefront Churches — are enriched by researchers’ personal experiences with believers. Contributors address topics not often treated in volumes of this type: Religious skepticism, African Pentecostalism in the Netherlands, World Vision International, Watchtower, and the Unification Church. Most notably, Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing religions among European blacks and among blacks in South Africa. In addition, World Vision, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Unification Church have expanding their operations in Africa and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. As a result, African religions have had a profound influence on African and African-American education.

As this volume clearly attests, African and African-American religion is much more than the sum of its parts. Contributors have highlighted what W. E. B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903: 211) saw as the key elements in black religion – “the preacher, the music, and the frenzy” – while at the same time paying close attention to those “peculiar spiritual qualities” Du Bois (1924: 54) underscored as the greatest gift of African and African American peoples to world civilizations.

Additional information


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Stephen D. Glazier, University of Nebraska, Lincoln








  1. Library Journal: December 15, 2000 Starred review

    A good starting point for understanding the complex interrelationships among African, African American, and European religious beliefs, practices, and traditions in a global context. Recommended for all libraries.

  2. Gale Group – Reference Reviews: April 2001

    From ancient deities to cyberspace and the Rainbow Coalition, the 145 entries by 72 scholars from 13 nations make this encyclopedia the most comprehensive available on the history of African and African American religions. Highly recommended for academic and medium to large public libraries.

  3. Booklist: May 1, 2001

    A necessary addition to academic and larger public libraries.

  4. Choice: July 2001

    A volume with unique articles….a rich sampling of religious expression.

  5. Library Journal: October 2003

    This useful, single-volume guide to the religious movements of Africa, North and South America, and the Carribean covers more that 150 topics, ranging from Abyssinian Baptist Church to Zulu Religion.

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