Reference Book of the Week: African American Religious Cultures

We continue celebrating Black History Month in our semi-regular series of Reference Book of the Week. This week we look at African Americans and religion in the two-volume set African American Religious Cultures (R 200.899 A2575 2009). This set, edited by Anthony B. Pinn, takes a look not only at the United States, but the American continents. The introduction states that this work is “concerned with the religious worlds of African Americans– the wide-ranging and complex communities of people of African descent who populate the hemisphere” (xxx). Whether you want to learn about the experience of African Americans in organized religions or their experiences in other spiritual paths, this is a good resource for you.

The set is organized as follows:

  • An introduction that provides a good context on African American religious cultures. The introduction discusses how African Americans came to the New World, the experience of slavery, and how their religious traditions have evolved over time in the Americas. The introduction does feature a very good bibliography for further reading.
  • A set of entries in alphabetical order. Topics such African Americans in various mainstream churches (Lutheran, Roman Catholic, etc.) as well as other religious traditions are discussed. The entries run from A (African American mysticism) to R (Rastafari) in the first volume and from S (Santeria) to X (Xango) in the second volume. According to the introduction, this first part of the encyclopedia is “concerned with a sense of religion by means of attention to particular traditions. . . ” (xxxi). Each entry has a bibliography so readers can expand their research on these topics.
  • The second volume also includes a set of essays on larger topics, a chronology of events, and an appendix containing a selection of primary documents. Do note that the essays focus mainly on North America because “it is assumed most users of this encyclopedia are situated in North America, particularly in the United States” (xxxi). However, the essays should be valuable to any reader anywhere in the world.

Overall, this is a basic encyclopedia designed to give readers some solid background information on the religious cultures of African Americans. After using this resource, readers should be able to to do more in-depth reading. One way to do that is by using the bibliographies provided throughout the encyclopedia and locate items cited. For books cited in the encyclopedia, readers here in Berea College can use BANC (our library catalog) to look up any book. For articles cited in the encyclopedia, you can search our Full Text Journals tool to see if we own a particular journal containing the article. If you are a reader at a different college or community, your local library probably has a library catalog and a tool similar to our Full Text Journals tool to help expand your search. At any rate, any time you need assistance, near or far, you can contact our reference desk.

African American Religious Cultures is available in the second floor of Hutchins Library, in the reference section. Just use the call number provided above to find it.


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