"No Mystery God": Black Religions of the Flesh in Pre-War Urban America1 by ProQuest


The New Jersey native and son of a black Methodist clergyman interviewed scores of people like thirty-year-old H. C. who, "in the dumps" over his financial and health troubles, moved to a pentecostal church "to relieve his mind" when the Baptist church he attended failed to give the solace he craved.3 In recent years, many scholars have argued that prior observers of the interwar period overstated the unresponsiveness of established black churches to the needs of new arrivals and consequently overemphasized the relative importance of "non-Christian and quasi-Christian" charismatically based "cults and sects" in black life.4 Even so, the urban unease Fauset witnessed did in fact animate much of black religious life in northern cities and set the broader social context for the strikingly vibrant religious experimentation that emerged both inside and oulside the confines of Christian identity in those crucial years between the world wars. Responding to Judith Weisenfeld's challenge to consider the largely unexamined "connection between the urban 'sects' and 'cults' and [the broader] African American Protestant tradition," this article looks beyond associational links between sectarian groups and mainstream churches to the emergence of a new and partially shared religious language that celebrated the personal and the concrete over the abstract and shaped the evolution of black religion as a modern culture in an increasingly industrial age.6 As Victorian sensibilities favoring emotional comportment and bodily restraint faded in the opening decades of a new century, black urban dwellers participated Jn a larger cultural renaissance during the 1920s and '3Os.

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