Black Theology and the History of U.S. Black Religions: Post Civil Rights Approaches to the Study of African American Religions



Black Religions as a field of study is one of many supervening developments of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Two conditions influenced development of this field. First, the Civil Rights Movement resulted in exponential increases in higher education of African descended people in the United States. These increases expanded research and scholarship on Black religions, generally. Second, because Black religions helped shape the Civil Rights Movement, an area of research and writing broadly identified as Black theology issued from and about Black religions and making of the Movement. During the mid-twentieth century, development of liberation theologies (which challenged religions' collaboration with imperialism) coupled with the substantial role of African American Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, in the Civil Rights Movement to create an early focus of much mid-century scholarship about U.S. black religions on development and evolution of black theology as a form of liberation theology. Even so, foundational work in the history of black religions appeared alongside developments of black theology. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries these two trajectories – black theologies and history of black religions – have emerged as standard emphases in the field of black religions. This article examines emergence of Black religions as a field of study and includes four sections exploring U.S. Black religions and the Civil Rights Movement, the appearance of Black theology in the United States, developments in Black theology and in the history of Black religions, and current trends in the study of Black religions.