In the long and tortured history of American ideas about race, religion has played a prominent role. In this book, Curtis Evans traces ideas about African American religion from the antebellum period to the middle of the twentieth century. Central to the story, he argues, is the notion--popular throughout this period--that blacks were somehow "naturally" religious. In time, as more and more value was placed on reason, rationality, and science, many whites pointed to blacks' "natural" religiosity as a sign of their inferiority and used that argument to justify their subordination. At the same time, many social scientists--both black and white--sought to debunk the idea of innate religiosity to show that blacks were in fact fully capable of assimilation into white American culture. Evans shows how interpretations of black religion played a crucial role in shaping broader views of African Americans and had real consequences in their lives. In the process, he offers an intellectual and cultural history of race in a crucial period of American history.

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