Slave Religion Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2557 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … slavery in American history. Specifically it will discuss the books "Slave Religion: The invisible institution in the Antebellum South" by Albert J. Raboteau, and "Slavery: A problem in American institutional and intellectual life" by Stanley M. Elkins. It will include an analysis of the two books, and the agreements and disagreements between the two authors concerning the institution of slavery. Both of these books look at the institution of slavery in American history, but from very different perspectives. Each author uses research and historical knowledge to back their theses, and each uses convincing arguments to prove their points. Both books are good historical documents and are helpful to any student of U.S. history of the time.

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The authors cover the same time period, but their writings cover two distinctly different themes in American slavery. Elkin's looks at the roots of American slavery, and why it developed as it did in America. Raboteau looks at religion in black slaves, from its roots to how slaves were converted and what it meant in their lives. Thus, the two books look at the same institution, but with different intent and different goals. There is great agreement between the two authors of the basic theory that slavery was a "tragedy" of magnificent proportions (Raboteau, 1978, p. 4). It would be difficult for anyone to say otherwise. However, the basic premise of the two books is very different, and that is why each of them is valuable to study history. If they covered the same material they would be redundant, but they do not, and so they offer a more complete picture of slavery and the time it occurred.

Term Paper on Slave Religion Assignment

It is difficult to compare these two works side-by-side because they discuss very different themes. Elkins is concerned with why slavery evolved as it did, while Raboteau is concerned not with the development so much as how religion played such an important part in the lives of slaves. Elkins only uses a few pages to discuss religion of the U.S. slaves, while Raboteau's whole book is a look at the spirituality of slaves. Therefore, the authors have two views of the importance of religion in the lives of slaves, and that perhaps is the biggest difference between these two books. One author is actually attempting to show institutions such as religion were on the downswing, while the other is attempting to show the vital importance of this institution in the lives of slaves.

Another difference is the writing style of the two authors. Elkins book is an earlier edition, and is written in a more scholarly tone. Raboteau's is newer, and while still academic, it is a bit easier to read because the writing is less formal. Elkins book is quite informative, but the difference between the two author's styles makes Raboteau's book easier to read, comprehend, and ultimately, to agree with.

The main thesis of Elkin's look at slavery is his attempt to view the institution critically and compare it with other types of slavery around the world, to discover why American slavery was so emotionally arguable and influential on American African-Americans. The author also believes that American slavery was decidedly unique, and did not follow the pattern of slavery in many other parts of the world.

Raboteau's thesis, on the other hand, centers on black American religion, specifically religion during the slavery period in American history. He calls this the "invisible institution," rather than the "peculiar institution," which Southerners used to refer to slavery itself. He, like Elkins, uses several key points to prove his thesis as the book progresses.

One of Raboteau's first arguments is that African-Americans had a strong culture and belief system in Africa before they were commandeered as slaves, and this gave them the foundation for continuing a belief system in America. He writes, "Nevertheless, African beliefs and customs persisted and were transmitted by slaves to their descendents. Shaped and modified by a new environment, elements of African folklore, music, language, and religion were transplanted in the New World by the African diaspora" (Raboteau, 1979, p. 4). Thus, it would make sense that many African-Americans would turn to another form of religion, the Christianity of their new homes, to help make an unbearable life at least a bit more bearable. Religion was an important part of their lives at home, and it would continue to be important, just in a new form. He continues to argue his thesis that Africans retained some of their culture and religion in the New World throughout the book.

Raboteau goes on to describe various parts of black religious services that resemble some of their African cultural practices, from "ring dances" to shouting and singing during services (Raboteau, 1978, p. 69-71). He also discusses folk beliefs and even voodoo, and their importance in black religion, always tying the information into the roots of black culture in Africa. He writes, "While a fully developed cult of the ancestors did not persist in the United Stats, certain African funerary customs did remain" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 83). He shows that African religion did not, for the most part, remain in the slave culture, but portions of it influence worship, belief, and churches to this day.

Another argument Raboteau uses is the conversion of slaves to Christianity and how they embraced the new religion. Part of this chapter is in direct agreement with Elkins work and his discussion of the conversion of slaves on the slave ships bound for Latin America. Raboteau writes, "The duty of Christianizing slaves as well as Indians was urged upon the Council for Foreign Plantations by Charles II in 1660" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 97). He also shows that this mass Christianization did not at first take place in America, just as Elkins does, and that this helped create a different slave population in America than in other slave societies. He writes, "Slaveholders feared that Christianity would make their slaves not only proud but ungovernable, and even rebellious" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 103). However, Raboteau goes on to show that conversion did occur, and that it was an important part of slave culture during and after the slavery eras. He continues, "The closing years of the eighteenth and the early decades of the nineteenth centuries witnessed an unprecedented spread of Christianity among Afro-Americans, slave and free" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 152). In fact, many blacks joined the Baptist and Methodist churches, and continue to support those religions today.

As a result of ongoing conversions, more blacks became interested in their religions, and became involved in the churches. Black preachers, and entire black churches began to spring up, and the phenomenon grew even more pronounced after the end of the Civil War. Raboteau continues, "It is significant that black preachers, some slave and some free, continued to be licensed and that separate black churches continued to be organized despite periodic harassment by civil and ecclesiastical authorities" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 196). His arguments and discussions continue to prove his thesis throughout the book, and he does successfully show the importance of religion in the black community during slave times and after.

Perhaps his most compelling argument comes in the chapter regarding religions life in slave communities, where he writes, "During the closing decades of the antebellum period the so-called invisible institution of slave Christianity came to maturity" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 212). He goes on to support this statement with memoirs, interviews, and documents all pertaining to slave recollection of their religious practices.

The final chapter proves how important religion became in black society by showing how some slaves totally rejected religion because it was "white folks religion," and in fact used it to fuel rebellion and revolt in black society. He writes, "Some slaves' inner rejection of 'white folks religion' was expressed outwardly by their rejection of their masters' denomination" (Raboteau, 1978, p. 295). Even in negative terms, religion fueled black thought, action, and commitment, and permeated much of the black community's life. Overall, the book does a good job of proving the thesis and giving interesting information about the formation and continuation of Christianity in the black community.

In his arguments, author Elkins is just as successful and Raboteau in proving his points. Elkins argues the strong sentiment against slavery in America was "all moral," rather than scientific and unemotional. He notes early in the book, "It was a problem of conscience which by mid-century would fasten itself in one form or another, and in varying degrees, upon men's feelings everywhere" (Elkins, 1959, p. 28). Thus, he sees slavery as a moral problem for the country, and the country saw it the same way.

Another key argument to back up Elkins beliefs is the tone of change and growth that was happening throughout American in the 1830s and beyond. Old institutions, such as Congregationalism and Federalism were dying out, and they were creating some new, more modern institutions to take their places, while others were disappearing altogether. The author notes, "Thus for the American of that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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