Join us tomorrow evening - July 27th at 6:30pm at Union Theological Seminary - for a conversation on "Keeping Care and Community" in times like these.
Yesterday the introduction to a forum on my book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics, went live on The Book Blog of The Immanent Frame.
I am, of course, excited to see my work featured in this space. Among other things, for the past decade The Immanent Frame has hosted forums on books by an incredible list of scholars, including the likes of Charles Taylor, Elizabeth Shakman-Hurd, Kathryn Lofton, Webb Keane, Brad Gregory, Courtney Bender and Robert Bellah --- to name just a few. I want to thank The Immanent Frame's Editorial Board for the invitation to host a forum on Spirit in the Dark, as well as to extend special gratitude to the editorial staff (Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Olivia Whitener) for all of the work that went into making it happen.
For now, what follows is an excerpt from my introduction to the forum and a link to the full essay on The Immanent Frame. It's a short "original" essay that attempts to situate Spirit in the Dark in relationship to a couple of key theoretical questions that lie behind my efforts to narrate African American religious and literary histories as a shared story. I found this task -- of writing something new about my own work -- to be surprisingly difficult; but that's a topic for another day. For now, I hope that you find The Immanent Frame's forum to be a fruitful and interesting conversation about my book and the broader themes of religion, race and the arts around which Spirit in the Dark is organized.
Spirit in the Dark—An introduction
I have written elsewhere about a set of contemporary experiences and observations—although now aged by roughly two decades—that provided the first sparks of interest in the questions that led to my first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics. Travels back and forth between church services, on one hand, and open mics and poetry readings, on the other, during the 1990s provided the initial impetus for my efforts to bring religion and literature in conversation in the form of the longer story that Spirit in the Dark narrates. Admittedly, the religious history of black letters from the 1920s to the early 1970s that I offer is colored by “presentist” concerns.
To state the matter differently, Spirit in the Dark grew out of my desire for a better historical understanding of how things—things religious and things literary—came to be the way they are. So another way to account for (rather than obscure) the play between past and present, the personal and the historical, in Spirit in the Dark is to acknowledge the kinds of theoretical questions that animate my study of religion and the arts in twentieth-century (black) America.
As I was moving through doctoral studies, immersing myself in the fields of African American literary/cultural history and American religious history, two specific intellectual developments captured my imagination. Just one year before I began my PhD . . .
To continue reading, go to The Immanent Frame.
Last month I had the opportunity to serve as a contestant on the popular podcast, Tell Me Something I Don't Know (TMSIDK), hosted by Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame) for episode focused on music. Below is a bit more about the show. My contribution -- which focuses on the turn to Gospel music by several prominent rappers (i.e. Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar) -- 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 Salie, comedian/journalist and writer, who has a 2-1 record as a wedding singer.
Danny Goldberg, record executive and former famous-band manager, who pioneered fake news. Our real-time fact-checker is Dan Zanes, accompanied by his live band.
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...
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.
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
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
4:15-6:00 Symposium Summary – Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
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.
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
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 Humanities, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Dean of Humanities, Arts & Sciences, Dean of Social Science, Arts & Sciences, Department of Religion
Reception at 6:00pm and the Conversation kicks off at 6:30pm
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.
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.
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 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