Upcoming Event for "Spirit in the Dark" at Columbia University's Heyman Center

Celebrating Recent Work by Josef Sorett
New Books in the Arts & Sciences: Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics
The Heyman Center for the Humanities @ Columbia University, 2nd Fl Common Room
Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 6:15pm

---------------------

Participants
Author: Josef Sorett, Associate Professor of Religion and African-American Studies, Columbia University
Discussant: Courtney Bender, Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Columbia University
Discussant: Robert Gooding-Williams, M. Moran Weston/Black Alumni Council, Professor of African-American Studies, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
Discussant: Barbara Dianne Savage, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought,University of Pennsylvania

---------------------

Registration: Free and open to the public; First come, first seated (No registration necessary)
Sponsors: Heyman Center for the HumanitiesSociety of Fellows in the Humanities, Dean of Humanities, Arts & Sciences, Dean of Social Science, Arts & Sciences, Department of Religion

Upcoming Lecture at Allen A.M.E. Church in Queens: Friday, February 17th at 7pm

I am looking forward to being in conversation with the Reverend Andrew Wilkes and helping the Micah 6:8 Social Justice Ministry of the Greater Allen Cathedral kick off its 2017 Liberation Weekend, with a discussion of my book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics(and activism art, literature, politics, race, justice and so much more) this coming Friday evening at 7pm.

Upcoming Event at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Harlem: Wednesday, February 15th at 6:30pm

I am looking forward to witnessing this performance (featuring Alicia Hall Moran) and moderating the dialogue that will follow it (with Onleilove Alston, Amy Butler, Serene Jones, and Lisbeth Melendez Rivera); as part of the month-long series, "Tomorrow is Still Ours Festival of Visionary Arts, Ideas and Activism," hosted at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Harlem.

New Review Essay: A Tapestry of Black Lives up on Public Books

Recently I had the opportunity to read and write a review of Jesmyn Ward's wonderful new edited volume, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks on Race, which pays obvious tribute to the great James Baldwin. It also features work by nineteen of today's most insightful and highly regarded writers--including Carol Anderson, , Mitchell S. Jackson, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey, and Isabel Wilkerson, Kevin Young. I've read the work of some of whom of these authors many times before (like Edwidge Danticat), and others for the first time, such as Garnette Cadogan.

I learned a great deal from each of the selections in this anthology. And about so many things. Perhaps most obviously, living while black and writing on race stand out; as would be expected in a book that takes cues for its title from James Baldwin's now classic book, The Fire Next Time (1962). 

Yet what resonated most powerfully with me while reading this new volume were the thoughtful reflections on the joys and anxieties attendant to raising children--and raising black children, in particular--in this peculiar historical moment. A moment when, now, a black president is at once an undeniable reality and a thing of the past even as the racial (that is, the overtly anti-black) pasts that many thought (or hoped and wished) were long behind us are the stuff of the everyday news cycle.

So much more that could be said... For now, what follows is an excerpt from the essay, followed by link to full piece on Public Books.

"James Baldwin’s legacy looms powerfully in this current moment. This may be all the more true for black writers. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, one of the contributors to Jesmyn Ward’s timely new anthology of essays about race in the United States, admits that she has often “found time to pray intensely at the altar of Baldwin.” Her religious metaphor is apt. Baldwin was both a secular master of the American essay and novel, and a spiritual seer on race matters. At the same time, his writing often hummed in the registers of the Afro-Protestant churches where he first heard the Word call him by name.

In her introduction, Ward explains that she found herself turning to Baldwin’s essays in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 and, subsequently, of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013. Winner of the National Book Award for her 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, Ward sketches a direct line to Baldwin by adapting the title of his 1963 classic, The Fire Next Time. Her title, The Fire This Time, shifts from the future to the present tense, from prophecy to confirmation. However, in contrast to Baldwin’s singular epistle, Ward’s book is an anthology. As such, it gathers a range of perspectives that don’t always align. This is not a criticism; it is simply an acknowledgement of the constraints and possibilities of genre. Ward’s The Fire This Time provides a rich and varied portrait of the work that race does in the making of black lives and literature today. There’s less critique, more nuanced considerations and layered contexts, befitting the complexity of black life in 2016.

Anthologies rely upon dialogue more than argument... "

To continue reading the full essay, go to Public Books

Spirit in the Dark featured on The Revealer

Spirit in the Dark was featured yesterday, in the November 7th issue of The Revealer, published by the Center for Religion and Media at NYU. What follows is the beginning of that essay, which is a slightly revised excerpt from Chapter 1—titled “The Church and the Negro Spirit”—of Spirit in the Dark, which focuses on tensions between religion and aesthetics as they informed debates about black art and culture during the 1920s.

THE SPIRITUAL POLITICS OF NEGRO ART
Ninety years ago last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) publication, The Crisis, printed an essay by its editor-in-chief, W.E.B. Du Bois. While Du Bois’s commentary often graced the pages of the Crisis, this time was slightly different. Four months earlier Du Bois had taken the stage at the NAACP convention in Chicago to deliver a speech that he later titled, “Criteria of Negro Art.” He had been asked to speak at a ceremony awarding Carter G. Woodson the organization’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Owing to popular demand, The Crisis printed Du Bois’s speech in its entirety in October of 1926.

Like Du Bois, Woodson was a Harvard-trained historian; and he was being honored for, among other contributions in the field of history, founding “Negro History Week” in February of that year. Yet Du Bois made the arts, and not history, his primary topic. To be clear, his decision to take the arts as his subject at the convention was no spontaneous gesture. By 1926 talk of a “Negro Renaissance” abounded; and although it was most commonly associated with Harlem, Chicago played a significant role in this nascent black literary movement. Alain Locke’s The New Negro, commonly considered the movement’s bible, was published in 1925. Crisis had since begun sponsoring a dialogue on race and literature on its pages. And, most recently, two of Harlem’s rising literary stars—George Schuyler and Langston Hughes—had just finished debating the idea of “Negro art” on the pages of The Nation. In fact, as a rebuttal to what Schuyler identified as “The Negro Art-Hokum,” Hughes’s now famous essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” appeared in The Nation on the same day that the NAACP opened its seventeenth national convention.

To continue reading, go to The Revealer

Immanent Frame Dialogue on "Religion, secularism, and Black Lives Matter"

I had the opportunity to write a short piece for to a dialogue on the Movement for Black Lives that went live today on the Social Science Research Council's popular religion blog, The Immanent Frame. My contribution is a short and revised excerpt from a long essay that will appear in the January issue of the journal Public Culture.

As a longtime follower of both The Immanent Frame and Public Culture, I am glad to have occasion to contribute to each of these intellectual communities. Here's a short excerpt from my essay, which is titled, "#BlackLivesMatter and the heterodox history of Afro-Protestantism":

"Though it is commonly identified as “not your grandfather’s Civil Rights movement,” #BlackLivesMatter is a bit of the old and the new at once. The Movement for Black Lives has earned this moniker, in part, because social media has been key to both the content and form of its organizing practices. Hashtags are made both to stage demonstrations and perform the work of memorialization (i.e. #SayHerName). Its novelty is also associated with a strident critique of what Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham named as the “politics of respectability.” This disavowal signals alienation from traditional black institutions, even as it advances a vision of racial justice that embraces class, gender, and sexual difference . . . "

You can find my complete essay and the entire discussion by clicking here:

http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2016/09/22/religion-secularism-and-black-lives-matter/

embed Block
Add an embed URL or code. Learn more.

Spirit in the Dark on "First Impressions," (Episode #91) for Marginalia Review of Books

This past weekend I had the opportunity to discuss the ideas that organize my book, Spirit in the Dark, with Kristian Petersen for the most recent episode of Marginalia Review of Books' interview series, "First Impressions."

Many thanks to Kristian for the invitation and conversation. And kudos to MRB Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Timothy Michael Law, and the team of scholars at Marginalia for the really important work they are doing to ensure that nuanced and interesting discussions of religion are available to a wide audience on the Los Angeles Review of Books website.

Check it out -- BUY THE BOOK : ) -- and let me know what you think.

Spirit in the Dark featured by the African American Intellectual History Society

Yesterday was the "official" release date for Spirit in the Dark and I'm pleased to share that, per an invitation from Ibram Kendi, the book was featured on the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). As you'll see below, Professor Kendi asked me to respond to a few basic questions to help provide some context for the book:

Ibram X. Kendi: Tell us a little bit about how you produced Spirit in the Dark. What were your source material, intellectual approaches, and writing style?

Josef Sorett: Most concisely, Spirit in the Dark is a historical project that engages with literary sources to wrestle with theoretical questions in the student of religion. My primary academic audience, in this regard, is comprised of scholars of religion in North America and African American religious history, in particular. Yet most of the sources I’m working with in the book are materials that have been engaged primarily by literary historians. So, in this way, I’m appealing to African American literary history to rethink the sources and narratives of American religious history at the same time that, by focusing on “religion,” I hope to join with other scholars who are complicating the secular orthodoxies that tend to guide literary criticism, in general.

As for sources, more specifically, this work has involved a re-reading of . . .

To continue reading the entire feature, visit the AAIHS blog.

New Website & New Book

9.1.2016: Happy Birthday josefsorett.com 2.0 and Spirit in the Dark!!!!!!

I want to thank Joselin Mane, my longtime "social media guru," for challenging me to create a website back in 2007 and insisting that I sign up for Twitter not long after that. While I am still finding my twitter-legs, and I aspire to update my blog with greater regularity, thanks to Joselin's techie skill-set and editorial eye it is my pleasure to introduce a new and improved version of josefsorett.com at the same time that my first book -- Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics -- comes out.

Thank you to everyone who took a few minutes to few the site and offer feedback over the past two weeks. In the blog's featured banner slides and below, you'll find old blog highlights dating back to my first launch back on 07.07.07. With the re-launch now, I invite to you subscribe and check out the site for new content in the months ahead!!!

With regards to THE BOOK --- first of all, BUY IT!!!! --- I want to thank my editor, Theo Calderara (and his team at Oxford University Press) for his great patience and persistent efforts to help bring Spirit in the Dark into the world.

Today (9.1.2016) is the official release date, and hardback and e-reader versions are available from Barnes and Nobles , Amazon and elsewhere.

You can also use promo code AAFLYG6 to purchase Spirit in the Dark (for a 30% discount) directly from the publisher at https://global.oup.com/academic.

And a special thanks to Alyssa Bender Russell for a wonderful publicity flyer!!! (see below) 

OUPFlyer.png

Coming Soon: Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics

Over the weekend I was feeling buoyed by all of the words of encouragement in response to the announcement of my forthcoming book, Spirit in the Dark, which is now available for pre-order online. I'm even more excited now that the Cover image and Table of Contents are posted on the website of Oxford University Press, along with the blurbs, which are also up on Amazon. The book's official release date is September 1, 2016, with a ship date of August 1st.

13334298_10156961993700223_1658280193_o
13334298_10156961993700223_1658280193_o

I'm pleased to share the blurbs now, with much appreciation and gratitude to four scholars whose work has influenced my own and for whom I have deep admiration and respect:

"Spirit in the Dark is a finely honed compendium of black American writers and the breadth of their religious influences. That black intellectuals and artists were also sometimes dogmatic religious adherents, eclectic spiritualists, and irrepressible agnostics is not an unknown observation, but what these identifications meant for modern black expressive culture has gone mostly unsaid. Until now. A richly historical study, Spirit in the Dark is a valuable resource indeed." --Maurice Wallace, English and Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, University of Virginia (and author of Constructing the Black Masculine)

"An exciting and innovative intervention that deftly melds African American religious and cultural studies." -- Barbara D. Savage, author of Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion

"In this magisterial book, Josef Sorett takes us into those black literary spaces that have heretofore been described as secular and reveals how those who reside therein imagine the beautiful in light of the religious. From the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement, Sorett pushes the boundaries of our understanding of the workings of the 'spirit' and, in doing so, unsettles our understanding of black religion and literature. This SPIRIT moves in this book. It is a must read!" --Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University (author of, most recently, Democracy in Black)

"Even at their most assertively secular, black expressive arts over the last century have riffed on Afro-Protestant church structures that they in turn attenuate, revise, and sustain. In this venturesome book Josef Sorett traces the 'celebratory ambivalence' that animates and infuses African-American cultural production from the Great Migration to the present. Spirit in the Dark is the best single-volume work I know of on the arts and fictions of Afro-Protestant modernity." --Tracy Fessenden, author of Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature