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BOOK

Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2016) PROMO FLYER
Most of the major black literary and cultural movements of the twentieth century have been understood and interpreted as secular, secularizing and, at times, profane. In this book, Josef Sorett demonstrates that religion was actually a formidable force within these movements, animating and organizing African American literary visions throughout the years between the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts movement of the 1960s. Spirit in the Dark unveils the contours of a literary history that remained preoccupied with religion even as it was typically understood by authors, readers, and critics alike to be modern and, therefore, secular. By examining figures--including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lorraine Hansberry; Ralph Ellison, Roi Ottley, Ann Petry and Richard Wright; Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka--who have typically been cast as "secular," Spirit in the Dark troubles the boundaries of what counts as "religion" in scholarship on African American culture. The book, ultimately,  reveals religion to be an essential ingredient, albeit one that was always questioned and contested, in the forging of an African American literary tradition.

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Advance Praise for Spirit in the Dark

“An exciting and innovative intervention that deftly melds African American religious and cultural studies.”
-Barbara Dianne Savage, Chair of the Department of Africana Studies and Geraldine Segal Professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania; 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. The SPIRIT moves in this book. It is a must read!”
-Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Chair of the Department of African American Studies, Princeton University, author of 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, Steve and Margaret Forster Professor of Comparative Mythologies, Arizona State University, author of Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature.

“ 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, Associate Professor of English and Carter G. Woodson Center for African and African American Studies, University of Virginia, and author of Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature, 1775-1995.

 

SELECT ARTICLES

"A Fantastic Church: Literature, Politics and the Afterlives of Afro-Protestantism," Public Culture (2017) 

"It's not the Beat but It's the Word that Sets the People Free: Racial Ideology, Technology and Theology in the Emergence of Christian Rap," Pneuma (2011)

"Believe Me, This Pimp Game is Very Religious: Toward a Religious History of Hip Hop," Culture and Religion (2009)

To read my occasional writing and commentary in a range of popular media outlets, check out my Blog.