Negotiating contestations over norms and values are a daily part of life for scholarship on historically marginalized populations: Race, GLTBQ studies, Sexuality, Class, Disability, or religious practices deemed marginal. What special pitfalls threaten your research when you, the people you study, or the specific issue you monitor is a hot button for any sort of academic or media debate about norms and values? Or how do you research selectively or periodically demonized populations? How do you talk about your findings and navigate the sometimes negative reception?
Speakers: Randall Styers and Monica Miller
Discussion Questions and Readings for Monica Miller's Segment
(1) What is African American religion? According to scholar of religion Anthony B. Pinn, the study of African-American religion has concerned itself with two primary questions "what is black about black religion?" and "what is religious about black religion?" Historically, these queries speak to the inextricable link between identity and religion in the study of African American religion. Given such confluence, heuristics such as "the black experience" and guiding themes related to oppression and historical fixity under white supremacy have given shape to formative and emerging scholarship. As such, conflating "lived experience" with a notion of religion as "felt and lived" often means thin attention to questions of theory and method in the study of African American religion. How might we redescribe African American religion as something that takes serious historical context and discourse? What role should identity play in racialized religious articulations? How should the 'problem of history' be dealt with in this area of thought? Monica A. Coleman's "Must I Be Womanist?" highlights the perils and challenges of these quagmires from the area of womanist theology. As a case study, how might we make use of Coleman's concern raised in this essay to rethink the form, content, and study of African American religion as it relates to both theory and method?
(2) How do we study African American Religion? The field of African American religion has been primarily studied through historical, theological, and sociological approaches. However, I suggest that the theological approach has dominated this area of thought more often than not under a christian rubric that overly focuses on the black church. Beyond our titillation with the black church as the main organizing center of black thought and life, the (christian) theological hegemony of African American religion keeps questions of life, death, the prophetic, suffering, pain, evil, and the self lodged within and arrested to an over-glorified and nostalgic understanding of what African American religion is. Using Eddie Glaude's 2010 Huffington Post essay "The Black Church is Dead" as a case study and in light of question #1, how might we give thought to how the academic study of African American religion ought to be studied in ways that go beyond static identity constructions, limiting theological suppositions, and little attention to the pressing needs of both theory and method.