WESTERN CONFERENCE ON CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE
Belief, Truth, & the Body in 20th-Century African American Literature
The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s was the artistic side of the Black Power Movement. Replaced a white Jesus with an African-American concept that may not have been Christian. Many BAM artists reconceptualized Christianity rather than rejecting it.
Background: 1955, murder of Emmett Till, bus boycott. MLK's nonviolent Christian approach, founded on love. Decade of frustration. '67 , “by any means necessary” protests. The Nation of Islam became an acceptable alternative to Christianity. Empowerment & black pride were appealing.
Was Christianity, then, “the white man's religion”? It needed to be re-packaged. BAM is a metonym for changes both political and spiritual.
“The Last Poets,” Nikki Giovanni. Syncretism of spiritual and cultural references. Making Jesus racially fitting. Ishmael Reed, “Judas.” Identification of that betrayal with racism. Taking Christianity and making it their own, culturally. Langston Hughes had done this earlier in “Christ in Alabama.” Carolyn Rogers, “Jesus was Crucified.” Amaara Baraka, “When We'll Worship Jesus.” Worshiping revolution. Coupling of spiritual and political endeavors. Kwanaza as a cultural choice.
There was no mass move from belief to unbelief; rather, there was a re-packaging of belief.
Natalie Cochran-Murray on Nella Larsen's Quicksand
Rhetoric of spiritual fervor overlaps with language of sexual ecstasy. An entwining of body and spirit, which is a Pentacostal emphasis. Body vs. soul is a version of profane vs. sacred, also like mind/reason vs. body/irrationality and masculine vs. feminine. Body and soul merge in Larsen's novel.
Ecstasy = withdrawal of the soul through the body. Common theme in Christian mysticism. Annihilation of the self as Christian rebirth. Helga has a fleeting chance at transcendence, but this leads to her demise. Does Pentecostal fire give a chance at sexual release? Erotic terminology and bodily emphasis in Pentecostal description. God is living, intimate, and interactive. This correlates with jazz, another African-American expression.
Transformative power through physical contact.
Simultaneous spiritual and sexual awakening. A satirical portrait of Pentecostal entwining of the religious and the sexual in order to critique conventional sexuality.
Need to consider denominationally specific readings of modernist literature.
Wallis Baxter on Gayl Jones' Corregidora
Women have often been confined in terms of the self, particularly mothers. The conception of mothering is the result of patriarchal constructs. Mothers as carriers of traditional culture and spirituality. Using racially-informed feminism.
White women tend to see Christ as master; black women tend to see Him as the co-sufferer.
Women, just like blacks, are socially constructed. There is tension between biological nature and socially-constructed identity.
The protagonist of Corregidora enacts this role untraditionally, but finds herself in social entrapment. She is a distant, improvisational “mother,” whose “child” is The Blues. True liberation is available through a conscious choice to refute the master narrative. She births a new paradigm for belief. She participates in unconventional “reproduction.” She uses the Blues as a tool to dismantle the social bonds holding her. She breaks out of the incarceration of her mind and of her body by breaking out of the cycle of rape and daughter-bearing. Truth lies in choice, free will, and historical foundations.