Talking Hip Hop and Gospel Music on "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"

Last month I had the opportunity to serve as a contestant on the popular podcast hosting by Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame)

Below is a bit more about the show. My contribution to the show starts up right around 34:23...

Expert panelists for the evening are:
David Hajdu, music critic and writer, who has suffered an occupational hazard.
Faith Saliecomedian/journalist and writer, who has a 2-1 record as a wedding singer.
Danny Goldbergrecord executive and former famous-band manager, who pioneered fake news. Our real-time fact-checker is Dan Zanes, accompanied by his live band.

TODAY: In Conversation with Farah Jasmine Griffin at Book Culture (Thursday, April 20 @ 7pm)

Looking forward to this conversation about my book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics, tonight with Farah Jasmine Griffin

If you happen to be in NYC, come up to Book Culture in Morningside Heights for what promises to be rich discussion of African American literature, American religious history, and all points between...

Upcoming Event: The Afterlives of Amazing Grace (April 10-11, 2017 @ Yale University))

PLEASE FORWARD TO INTERESTED PEOPLE!
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The Afterlives of Amazing Grace: Religion and the Making of Black Music in a Post-Soul Age
Tuesday, April 11 | 10:30 - 4:45 pm
ISM Great Hall
409 Prospect St., New Haven
Free; no tickets or reservations required
Organized by ISM Fellow Josef Sorett and Ambre Dromgoole, MAR ‘17

The daylong symposium offers an invitation to consider a bundle of questions associated with the entangled trajectories of contemporary Christianity and black popular music — from Gospel, to Praise and Worship, and Hip Hop — in the years since Aretha Franklin’s chart-topping album, Amazing Grace (1972). Bringing together academics, artists, journalists, and industry leaders for a one-day public dialogue at Yale University, we will consider developments—from the naming and overlap between different musical genres, the blurring of racial lines and blending of church traditions, and the emergence of new technologies and media forms—in Christian music, the cultural marketplace, and black churches in the post-Soul Era.

To set the longer historical context for this dialogue, we will begin the evening of April 10 by reflecting on the early years of Gospel music with a screening and discussion of the classic documentary Say Amen, Somebody (1982).
 
DAY 1: Film Screening
"Say Amen, Somebody"
Monday, April 10 @ 7:30 pm
Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St.

DAY 2:
Tuesday, April 11 | 10:30 - 4:45 pm
Featuring a Keynote Lecture: Mark Anthony Neal (Duke University)
ISM Great Hall, 409 Prospect St.

Full schedule and more info here: The Afterlives of Amazing Grace

Beyond Stonewall Symposium at Princeton University

I'm looking forward to participating in a symposium on "New Histories of Religion and Sexuality" in America" this Saturday at Princeton University. The event is organized and hosted by Wallace Best and features two great new books: Anthony Petro's After the Wrath of God and Heather White's Reforming Sodom.

Here is the schedule for the day and, most importantly, its not too late to REGISTER HERE!!!!

Saturday March 11, 2017 – Lewis Library 120
8:30-9:30 Continental Breakfast and Registration
9:30-9:45 Opening Remarks- Wallace Best, Princeton University

9:45-11:45 First Panel: “Reforming Sodom” – Heather White
 Rebecca Davis, University of Delaware
 Gillian Frank, Princeton University
 Josef Sorett, Columbia University
Chair: Jessica Delgado, Princeton University

12:00-1:30 Lunch – Brush Gallery 

1:30-3:30 Second Panel: “After the Wrath of God” – Anthony Petro
 Bethany Moreton, Dartmouth College
 David Johnson, University of South Florida
 Lynne Gerber, Harvard University
Chair: Leslie Ribovich, Princeton University

3:30-4:15 Break 

4:15-6:00 Symposium Summary – Kathryn Lofton, Yale University

Spirit in the Dark featured on Religion Dispatches

Two days ago, on March 7, two pieces about my book were published on the popular religion website, Religion Dispatches. Thanks for the invitation, Evan Derkacz, and kudos on the great work that RD continues to publish!!!

The first is an interview, Poets and Preachers: How black Literature Blurs the Lines Between Sacred and Secular.

And the second is an excerpt -- "Religion and Gender Trouble in the Black Arts" -- from chapter 6 on the Spirit in the Dark, which focuses on Toni Cade Bambara's class 1970 anthology, The Black Woman, as an entry point into the how religion and gender converged in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

 

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

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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

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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/

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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.