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Race, the Arts, and Religion in America

Summary and Keywords

With the slow realization that race was not a category in nature, but rather the fruit of social imagination emerging from colonialism, scholars in the late 20th century shifted their focus to the cultural elements feeding that imagination, including religion and the arts. Although most studies in the field address fairly conventional constructions of religion and the arts (two categories that, like race, have also been destabilized), some studies reveal the potential for these three categories to be co-constituting. Studies addressing religiously themed music, including spirituals, gospel, hip-hop, and a significant portion of country music, have shed light on the ways in which these genres encode and inform racial paradigms. Portraits in theater, dance, and film of ideas and practices associated with Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and other social groupings have proven active sites for the production of influential, and often competing, conceptions of race. Stereotypes linking religious and racial classifications are perpetuated as well as challenged in these artistic media. Given that the racial imagination in the United States is articulated using the language of color, painting and sculpture have been instrumental in conveying vivid connections between race and religion. For instance, many paintings celebrating Christianity’s triumph over America’s indigenous people concurrently depicted white dominance over them as well. A theological system rooting skin color in divine decree, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did in its Book of Mormon, helped assure a fair-skinned and fair-haired Jesus would populate its art. The politics of Jesus’ color continued to be played out in painting and sculpture in the United States to the present day, and exemplifies the interaction of racial, religious, and artistic categories.

Keywords: arts, colonialism, dance, film, music, painting, race, religion, sculpture, theater

The Terms of the Discussion

It took an important late-20th-century shift from thinking of race as a natural social boundary to thinking of it as a classification resulting from complex power relations and social imagination in order to generate scholarly interest in the socio-historical circumstances that allowed racial categories to form. Among the many social practices fueling the collective imagination necessary for manufacturing racial boundaries are those associated with both religion and the arts. In this intellectual environment, scholars began exploring ways the arts and religion intersected with the production and maintenance of racial classification systems.

Until recent years, scholarship focusing on the relationship between religion, race, and the arts in the United States has been fairly limited. Since the Enlightenment era, both in the academic arena and in popular use, race emerged as an “ideology about human difference” that was often employed as “a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere.” If race, today, tends to identify groups or forms of peoplehood perceived as being linked biologically, and “ethnicity” tends to identify groups or forms of peoplehood perceived as being linked culturally, this was not always the case. Prior to World War II, race was applied to both ways of classifying people. Ethnicity emerged as an attempt to classify without appealing to biology or “blood.”1 Both terms are fruit of the same vine—attempts to delineate social boundaries that emerge from specific historical circumstances to serve particular power relations—yet race continued its association with natural, essential difference. By the end of the 20th century, however, scholars in many fields were interrogating the category of race, and it became clear that the social boundaries we commonly identify as “races” were, in fact, constructions of the social imagination. Still, like many social constructions, racial classification schemes had profound and measurable socio-political consequences. By the late 1980s, biologists, sociologists, historians, psychologists, and others had initiated the process of dismantling the category’s essentialist pretentions. Organizations like the American Anthropological Association (representing a field with a long history of pseudo-scientific pronouncements on inherent racial qualities), were motivated to publish statements rejecting the scholarly utility of any use of race that reflected “natural and separate divisions within the human species based on physical differences.”2

The category of “religion” has proven no less nebulous throughout history, as its earliest applications not only referred to cultic practices aimed at pleasing the gods but also behaviors ranging from the performance of familial duties to demonstrating knowledge of one’s place in social hierarchies. By the 1500s, the category was linked explicitly with Christian practices and teachings. Reformation and post-Reformation figures argued over which forms of Christianity constituted “true religion.” Soon, the rise of liberal Western nation-states in competition with the medieval infrastructure of Roman Catholicism helped assure the relegation of “religion” to its own distinct sphere, separate from the political, economic, and other spheres.3 Upon the European encounter with the Americas, comparing and contrasting the cultural narratives and practices of indigenous peoples with those familiar to Christians helped mark power relations. Scholars including Talal Asad, Tomoko Masuzawa, Jason Ananda Josephson, and David Chidester have demonstrated the value to colonial powers in applying the category “religion” around the world as a means of organizing, controlling, and conquering a wide range of peoples.4 Studies like these destabilize the category of religion and have left scholars more likely to proceed with “working definitions” of the term when tackling diverse subject matter. Scholarly treatment of religion and the arts have typically reflected uses of religion aligning with data commonly linked with broad and familiar constructions of “world religions”—a paradigm that itself reflects the interests of colonizing powers—such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and others. As such, artistic forms invoking gods, afterlife, “sacred” texts, and institutions believed to mediate supernatural or transcendent information play a prominent role in these studies.

The final term in this threefold cluster, “arts,” is also problematic. From Plato’s Republic, through Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 submission of “Fountain”—a urinal—to the New York’s Society of Independent Artist’s first exhibition, to the present day, the question of what art is generates heated debate. This debate extends to a long history of gatekeepers committed to mobilizing public opinion on behalf of their own views as to what art is, and what “good” art should look like. While recognizing these complexities, this essay will reflect current scholarship in the field and focus on a set of conventional genres in the visual and performing arts: dance, music, theater, film, painting, and sculpture. It will emphasize examples of art linked to racial coding, particularly when practices common to colonized people have been interpreted by those who colonize them. By focusing on this, the essay aims to survey research that draws attention to ways these constructs combine to shed light on social organization, power, strategies for the manufacture and maintenance of collective identities, as well as strategies for challenging those identities. These constructs have also proven co-constituting at times. Religious discourse and artistic representations have informed racial categories, racial ideologies have weighed on what human practices get to “count” as religion and art, and the arts served as vehicles through which racial and religious identities are performed and inscribed. The historical examples that follow, while far from comprehensive, may provide an entryway to the topic and a springboard for future study.


Euro-American anxieties about Native American dance rituals dated back centuries. Dances were seen as threatening to Euro-American dominance for reasons ranging from their cultivation of tribal cohesion, to their propagation of “heathen” and “pagan” customs, to their preparation for warfare. Christianization, after all, was viewed by Euro-Americans as essential to efforts to pacify the Native people. Conflict surrounding the “Ghost Dance,” taught by the Northern Paiute prophet, Wovoka, is one of the best-known illustrations of this tension. Although competing narratives about the genealogy of Wovoka’s prophecy subsist, by 1889 Wovoka spoke of a divine vision that promised revitalization of Native Americans through, in part, the practice of a communal dance—the Ghost Dance—which he shared with other tribes. The tragic massacre of Lakota Indians by U.S. federal forces at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, was likely precipitated by Euro-American anxieties about the tribe’s participation in the Ghost Dance.5 Earlier, ceremonies associated with the Lakota Sun Dance prompted the U.S. Department of Interior to forbid the dance in its 1883 “Code of Indian Offences.” In this code, the chairman of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) described these dances, along with the practices of “medicine-men,” as “heathenish,” and therefore outside the parameters of religion and religious protection.6

While Euro-American characterizations of Native American dance clustered around degrading descriptions of the practice as a form of savagery (despite some coming to see them as an art form over time), the dances also marked the way racial boundaries were perceived. Tisa Wenger’s 2009 study, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom, provides a vivid example of the confluence between religion, race, and art. In 1921, the U.S. Commissioner for the BIA sent a letter to his agents encouraging them to bar Native American dance ceremonies when they viewed these dances as “degrading.” A follow-up letter two years later reiterated these concerns. The order was prompted by missionary complaints—particularly from those living among the Pueblo tribes in the Southwest—that indigenous dances involved immoral activity.7

Wenger’s case study of various Pueblo communities in Arizona and New Mexico examines the process by which both Native people and Euro-Americans identified communal dances as “religious” acts connected to a broader religion among the Pueblo people. Before this, Pueblos understood these dances as “community work,” necessary for the survival of the people and the well-being “of the entire world.”8 Most Pueblo tribes were missionized by Spanish Roman Catholics, dating back to the 16th century. In that context, the word “religion”—a word introduced to them by the Spaniards—came to apply only to their Roman Catholic Christianity. To differentiate their dances from traditional Catholic practices, the Pueblo people were encouraged to refer to the dances as “customs” that, while vital to the community, remained distinguishable from Roman Catholic religion. This arrangement worked well (despite a record of Catholic priests and bishops who were uncomfortable with the dances) until the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the 19th century and the government officials who empowered them. For them, the dances impeded their efforts to Protestantize and “civilize” the Pueblo people. Missionaries complained that the dances, which often included fertility rites deemed indecent and immoral according to Protestant behavioral codes, needed to be stopped. This prompted the BIA’s letter in 1921, which in turn spearheaded the effort to classify the Pueblo dances as religion. These efforts were shepherded, in part, by an array of white “cultural modernists,” particularly from the academic and artistic communities, who saw in these dances a combination of “art” and “religion” combining in “an original or primal unity.”9

In light of protections granted by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to “religion,” a plurality of Pueblos themselves abandoned the language of “customs” and “community work,” and came around to identifying their dances as vital to their religion. Within a few short years, they succeeded in protecting their dancing rights. However, as Wegner explains, one of the consequences of the change in verbiage was that the prevailing Protestant association of “religion” with interiority and individual conscience—an association that continues to dominate American understandings of the term—threatened cultural cohesion within the tribes as some Pueblo converts to Christianity used their “religious freedom” to opt out of communal dances.10

Dance, race, and religion also combine in the practices of some of the earliest African American converts to Christianity. By the 1800s, free African Americans in the North were typically enculturated into the practices of the larger Euro-American Christian population. This included linking silence with reverence, along with the maintenance of bodily stillness as a mark of solemn attention. Puritans were well known for their outright opposition to dance in any circumstance, and certainly in the context of worship.11 While the emotional spectacle of Evangelical Protestant revivalism beginning in the mid-18th century had pushed the boundaries of bodily movement in white circles, “order” remained the rule. By the time slaves were emancipated in the South, northern African American clergy had largely adopted the style of the white Christian majority in their church services. Middle-class blacks had, like their white compatriots, conformed to the measured mannerisms of the Victorian age, which arose in response to the erosion of the European class system as a strategy for negotiating questions of status.12

This solemn Christianity seemed natural to the African Methodist Episcopal Bishop, Daniel Alexander Payne, as he headed south of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1878 to promote his faith among emancipated African Americans. In his autobiography, Payne recounted witnessing what was later identified as the “ring shout”—a group dance involving clapping and stomping that moved counter-clockwise in a circle. The ring shout was a survival of West African culture, and as historian Albert Raboteau described in his classic 1978 study, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South, it was widespread among southern blacks. Upon first encountering the ring shout among emancipated Christians, Payne insisted that they cease the “ridiculous and heathenish” practice. The leader of the dancing group protested that “Sinners won’t get converted unless there is a ring.” Payne was not persuaded, confident that the dance was incompatible with Christianity. “These ‘Bands’ I have had to encounter in many places,” he explained. “I usually succeeded in making the ‘Band’ disgusting; but by the ignorant masses … it was regarded as the essence of religion.”13 The ring shout continues to be practiced among the Gullah of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and still serves to fashion the collective identity of the Gullah people.14


By the time W. E. B. DuBois dedicated the culminating chapter of The Souls of Black Folk (1903) to what he called “Sorrow Songs,” music had become a marker of race in American culture. More commonly known as “spirituals,” these songs were sung by slaves to help them endure the harsh conditions of their labor. They were typically simple refrains, often sung in the style of “call and response,” with an emotional resonance ranging from light-hearted to anguished. DuBois explained that “purely secular songs [were] few in number” among the slaves, as the tunes had been adapted to religious themes, particularly biblical tales. He counted spirituals, “not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side of the seas.”15

Spirituals became a staple of African American Christian worship. Yet by the early stages of urbanization and the Great Migration northward, many middle-class blacks came to see the spirituals as a best-forgotten legacy of oppression. The “New Negro Movement” in the 1920s, commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance, changed all that. This movement celebrated “folk” art, which in the case of African Americans came to be associated most fully with southern rural culture. By celebrating the folk and rural life, urban black artists in the 1920s were, perhaps not consciously, using practices like spirituals as a measuring stick for “progress” and “modernity” associated with urbanism and industrialization in the United States.16 Notably, while white audiences also grew to love spirituals, they imagined them to reflect contentment and even joy among slaves. After emancipation, whites linked spirituals with their nostalgia for the plantation system.17

In the 1930s, gospel had become the music of choice in a plurality of urban African American churches. Originating among Holiness and Pentecostal Christians, gospel music differed from spirituals by the addition of instruments—such as tambourines, guitars, pianos, and drums—along with faster rhythms, and their identification with individual composers. While borrowing from spirituals, they also took from the blues, and even from the hymnal traditions of white churches. In his 2005 book, Passionately Human, No Less Divine, Wallace Best explains that gospel was initially met with resistance by northern black parishioners who considered it too loud, too emotional, and too similar to the blues—a form of music linked with sin-filled venues like bars and night clubs. With the skill of composers like Thomas Dorsey, however, the gospel genre not only earned a wide audience within black urban churches, but outside of churches as well.18

The rise of “rock-and-roll” provides a vivid example of the intersection of race and religion with music, as well as dance. Tracing its roots to the rhythm and blues sounds that became popular among urban African Americans in the 1940s, and characterized by steady, rapid beats that inspired new dances, the term rock-and-roll was popularized by the white disc jockey, Alan Freed (though it had been a sexually suggestive slang phrase used in the subculture of black rhythm and blues for years). White supremacy and segregation continued to dictate the American racial codes of the 1950s, but R&B and rock-and-roll music had captivated many white teens. Soon, dance halls featuring the fresh new beat became sites where black and white young people shared space as they expanded popular swing-based dances to include an ever-evolving array of improvisational moves. Even the formally segregated dance floors of the Jim Crow South, where blacks were restricted to separate spaces, sometimes gave way by the end of the night to whites and blacks dancing side by side. White parents were typically scandalized by the integrated displays that were seen as overtly sexual, while black parents feared the violent consequences that might stem from these transgressions.19

It was not long before many Christian churches linked the perceived breach of racial and sexual boundaries in popular culture to violations of divine will. The popularity of Elvis Presley, the first major white singer to adopt this musical form associated with black artists, elicited criticism across the denominational spectrum. Presley—like Jerry Lee Lewis who came to prominence as a white rock-and-roller shortly afterwards—was raised in the Pentecostal Church where he was exposed to ecstatic dance and songs deemed unseemly by other white Christian denominations.20 Although Presley’s sexuality, symbolized by his pelvic movement, triggered the most direct attacks, his popularizing of black musical styles among white audiences violated racial binaries. A priest writing in the Catholic Sun, derided “Presley and his voodoo of frustrations and defiance.” His choice of the term “voodoo” reflected the racialized classification of rock-and-roll. It was scorned as “Jungle Music” by white critics, fearing that the “savage” rhythms of Africa would unleash uncontrollable sexuality among their daughters. The attacks were not limited to words. White protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, including the local head of the White Citizen’s Council, physically assaulted Nat King Cole, a black performer later associated more with crooning than rock-and-roll, during a 1956 performance. Many of the same protestors returned to challenge the white rock-and-roller, Bill Haley, the following month while holding signs that read: “Christians will not attend this show. Ask your preacher about jungle music.”21

Although the connection has received almost no scholarly treatment, the link between Evangelical Protestant Christianity and the construction of whiteness in the genre of “country music” presents a case inviting further exploration. With the rare exception of figures like Charlie Pride, Darius Rucker, and Mickey Guyton, and despite the broad range of cultural and musical influences on the genre, political economist Geoff Mann notes that “country music is widely perceived to be ‘white’ music—produced by white people, consumed by white people, apparently appealing almost exclusively to white people, at least in North America.” Mann argues that these circumstances are created, in part, because country music, like other forms of music, engages in what cultural studies scholar John Mowitt calls “musical interpellation.” In other words, by the interaction between the sound and the listener, country music contributes to producing the identity of its listener as a subject—a theory grounded in the work of Louis Althusser. In the case of country music, Mann contends that this process takes the form of a nostalgia enacting the perception of besieged “whiteness,” a “notion that average (white) people are victims of an institutional and social disenfranchisement that challenges not just the racial order, but the social structure that ‘whites’ created.” Recurring themes of returning to the South after feeling alienated in northern cities, pride in accented English, intentionally violating elite cultural norms, repeatedly invoking “Dixie,” all set within a typically narrative lyric structure, contribute to this sense of victimization. While Mann notes that the whiteness to which its listeners are called is “unapologetically American and Christian,” the extent to which religion plays a role in manufacturing whiteness remains a largely undeveloped site for investigation.22

Even in light of the rough and wild themes found in country music including drinking, gambling, and sex, these stories are often set in the midst of narratives ripe with Protestant emphasis on sin being met with unmerited grace. The simple use of words like “Lord,” “prayer,” “church,” “heaven,” and others, can mobilize listeners’ identification with a Christian milieu. For example, Randy Travis’s 2002 hit, Three Wooden Crosses, invokes the image of Christ’s crucifixion on Calvary to tell the story of “a farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher, ridin’ on a midnight bus, bound for Mexico.” The bus is in an accident resulting in the death of three of these passengers.

  • That farmer left a harvest, a home and eighty acres,
  • The faith an’ love for growin’ things in his young son’s heart.
  • An’ that teacher left her wisdom in the minds of lots of children;
  • Did her best to give ’em all a better start.
  • An’ that preacher whispered: “Can’t you see the Promised Land?”
  • As he laid his blood-stained bible in that hooker’s hand.

The song culminates with the revelation that the singer’s preacher told this story “last Sunday, as he held that blood-stained bible up for all of us to see.” By linking each figure with passing on traditions to children, including a farmer instilling a love of agriculture in his son, a teacher inspiring her students, and a redeemed prostitute passing on God’s word to her son who would grow up to be a minister, Mann’s theme of nostalgia rings clear. Although whiteness is never clearly articulated in the lyrics, its white singer, Travis, lays the foundation for his white listeners to harken back to their own youths when, perhaps, family farms had not been absorbed by massive corporate operations, teachers were respected, and faith was strong enough to redeem even the most fallen of souls.23


Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play, The Melting Pot reflects a key moment in the process by which Jewishness came to be understood by most as a form of whiteness in America. Although Zangwill was from England, his play “created a sensation” in cities across the United States.24 It told the story of a Jewish immigrant who survives a Russian pogrom and emigrates to America. Once in the United States, he falls in love with another recent émigré, a young Russian Christian woman. The play’s hero is enamored with America, proclaiming the nation “God’s crucible. The great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming. … God is making the American.”25 When he discovers that his new love’s father actually led the pogrom in Russia against his people, his marriage hopes appear dashed, but the theme of America as a land where all are made anew prevails. The play closes with the sounds of “My Country 'tis of Thee” in the background as the young couple—whose love triumphs over circumstance—celebrates the work of “the great Alchemist,” God, who gathered people from all corners of the earth to his “purging flame” and produced an entirely new people: Americans.26 Although the play was met by great cheers from President Theodore Roosevelt, and some members of the Jewish Reform movement who had striven to create a distinctively American Judaism, most Jews were angry with Zangwill’s play. It even helped to trigger Horace Kallen’s famous 1915 essay, “Democracy versus the Melting Pot,” which argued for the principles that came to be known as “cultural pluralism” (a term Kallen himself coined).27 Zangwill’s piece served as one of the earliest instances of theatrical commentary on religion and race.

Theater also mediated cultural notions of race and religion along the axis of blackness and whiteness. From the earliest encounters between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans, whites used theology to classify the African people. “Godless savages” became a staple expression among European writers to describe and dehumanize blacks, perhaps helping to ease psychological discomfort arising from exploiting and enslaving the African people.28 In places like the United States, white supremacist ideology continued to shape the parameters of what black “humanity” meant. Scholars including George Fredrickson and Curtis Evans have commented upon the significance of “romantic racialism” that emerged on the eve of the U.S. Civil War, particularly among white abolitionists. Romantic racialism included essentialist characterizations of black religion, marked by an innate depth of emotion coupled with a limited capacity for intellectual discernment and reason. “Humility, fidelity, patience, love, and large-heartedness” were the hallmarks of black spirituality in this rendering of blackness.29 While preferable to the “Godless savages” rhetoric preceding it, romantic racialism set the stage for decades of demeaning stereotypes in artistic portrayals of blacks. These are seen most vividly in the realms of theater and film.

White playwrights utilized these religious tropes with frequency. In a 1969 speech, African American playwright and theater professor Randolph Edmonds noted the ubiquity of black characters portrayed on stage as a “Witch doctor or Conjurer,” a “Dialect Speaking Preacher or Elder,” or an all-around “superstitious” figure.30 Many trace the birth of the modern “Negro Theater” movement to a set of three one-act plays performed on Broadway in 1917, written by Ridgely Torrence, a white man. Notably, Torrence used a cast of black actors, eschewing the standard practice of portraying black characters with white actors in blackface using burnt cork or greasepaint. Despite the progress this represented, Torrence’s plays were not free of stereotypes. Granny Maumee, for instance, depicted an old black woman using African conjuring and “devil stuff” in an attempt to murder the white father of her newborn great-great-grandson. The conjured spirit of her deceased son, who was killed by a white lynch-mob, persuades her to forgive whites moments before she herself dies.31 As a general rule, early-20th-century white playwrights utilized stereotyped African American expressions of faith—whether irrational superstition, frenzied public worship, African conjuring traditions (filtered through Euro-American imagination), or childlike and simplistic theologies—as signposts of difference. Even playwrights sympathetic to the black struggle in a white supremacist nation appeared to work under the assumption that essential qualities separated the races, and that approaches to religion helped reveal those differences, leaving religion to play the role of boundary marker between whiteness and blackness.32

Romantic racialism also fueled the constant use of spirituals performed by black characters in plays written by whites. Spirituals served to signal black emotionalism and piety in these plays. DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy, was adapted for the stage two years later. “From the first curtain to the end,” one reviewer wrote, “the Negroes are singing in joy and sorrow.” When George Gershwin turned the play into the 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess, his portrait of the faithful African American continued with the use of spirituals including “Oh, Doctor Jesus” and “O Lawd I’m on My Way.” Paul Green’s productions of In Abraham’s Bosom and Roll Sweet Chariot were built upon spirituals. Communist writer Em Jo Basshe’s play, Earth, dealt with the struggles of an emancipated slave community in the South that “vacillated between Christianity and voodoo in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off its poverty and misery.” Spirituals marked the entire production. Basshe, a Russian immigrant to America, explained in an interview his certainty that “superstition … determined the peculiar religious experience of the broad mass of black folk.”33

African American playwrights chimed in with their own contributions to the discourse on religion. Whether critiquing the role of Christianity among blacks, arguing for their own theological interests, or employing religious—particularly Christian—language and symbol to comment on morality and virtue, African American writers were deeply invested in how black identities aligned with competing religious alternatives. It is worth noting, however, that during the first half of the 20th century, the vast majority of black playwrights were well-educated and raised in high-status families within black communities. Although new religious movements commanding public attention were emerging from Holiness and Pentecostal circles, along with various strands of esoteric and non-Christian movements, black playwrights who featured religious themes were more likely to come from well-established churches, preferring quiet reverence to loud celebration, stillness to motion, and the three-point sermon to the improvisational artistry of the charismatic style common to these new churches. Where white playwrights seemed certain of the endemic faithfulness of blacks, rooted in unusually deep wellsprings of emotion, black playwrights (at least in the early 20th century, in contrast to many plays written after the civil rights movement) were more likely to see faith as a problem, and to portray church as an impediment to liberation and political action.34

Religious themes figured prominently in plays about the crisis of lynching plaguing blacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1892 and 1930 alone, 3,386 instances of black lynchings were recorded, all to the deafening silence of a U.S. Congress where pro-segregationists consistently blocked passage of any legal attempts to address the problem. Dozens of plays by black authors not only sought to grapple with the human tragedy of lynching, but utilized the horror as a touchstone for reflecting on religious questions ranging from the apparent silence of God, to the futility of prayer, to the ineffectiveness of churches in addressing the crisis.35

Beginning with Angelina Weld Grimké’s 1915 play, Rachel—commissioned by the NAACP to answer the dehumanizing portrait of African Americans in D. W. Griffith’s enormously popular film, Birth of a Nation (released that same year)—we see themes that would prove common in scripts dealing with lynching. The pious protagonist of the play, “Rachel,” loses her faith in God while coming to terms with the cruelty of white society. Prayer’s powerlessness is a key theme in plays like Georgia Douglas Johnson’s, A Sunday Morning in the South (1925), James Weldon Johnson’s play in verse, Brothers—American Drama (1935), Abram Hill’s, Hell’s Half Acre (1938), and Ralf Coleman’s, Swing Song (1937), among others. The almost comic futility of the church in Regina Andrews’s tragic play, Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (1931), castigates the manner by which internal church politics, egotism, and excessive piety interfere with collective action to prevent a lynching taking place outside the church doors. Notably, the only play written by a black author before World War II depicting prayers being answered and a lynching being averted was Georgia Douglas Johnson’s, Blue-Eyed Black Boy (1930), which ended with the white governor sending troops to protect his illegitimate black son from being killed by a mob. In this case, the boy’s ties to whiteness appear to have merited a divine response. Of the twenty-five anti-lynching plays written by white playwrights before 1945—many of which addressed the hypocrisy of white Christians—only one of them contained language that could be seen as challenging the justice and power of God, compared to eighteen of the twenty-five anti-lynching plays written by blacks in this period.36

Among plays written by African American authors using religion to mark collective racial identity, Marita Bonner’s 1927 one-act, The Purple Flower, stands out. Composed in a surrealist style, Bonner identifies a theme from the Book of Genesis that blood sacrifice can usher in a new order. Although a complex and multilayered play, the story revolves around a downtrodden people’s struggle to ascend a hill controlled by “White Devils.” At the top of the hill stands a flower named the “Flower-of-Life-at-Its-Fullest,” and the play’s protagonists—a people Bonner names, simply, “Us”—fiercely debate the best means of ascending the hill to access the flower. Bonner’s characters articulate a range of perspectives reflecting internal disagreements among African Americans as to how full equality could be achieved. In the end, however, they conclude that change will only come by spilling the blood of the White Devil. They select a character named “Finest Blood” for the task, and he declares himself the “instrument” of God. In the same way Abraham ultimately substituted a ram in the bushes for the blood of his son, Isaac, after God intervened (Gen. 22:13), the play concludes with Finest Blood sacrificing the White Devil hiding in the bushes, and with the narrator’s question: “Is it time?” The audience is left to wonder whether the revolution is upon them.


Film provided another artistic medium in which religion served to codify racial boundaries. Judith Weisenfeld’s 2007 study, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929–1949, examines films by both white and black directors employing religious features to comment on racial character. King Vidor, a prominent director whose filmmaking career spanned decades, made Hallelujah in 1929. The film told the story of “Zeke,” a young sharecropper turned revivalist preacher, turned killer. Vidor, a white Texan who saw himself as “an authority on ‘the negro,’” combined the stereotypes of blacks possessing a simple Christian faith, uncomplicated by reason, with that of a people consumed with untamed sexuality. From the film’s opening scene, outward signs of piety are shown to be powerless in the face of lust. A reading of the Ten Commandments at a family gathering is followed immediately with a couple named “Adam” and “Eve”—along with their eleven children—arriving to ask the family patriarch, “Pappy,” to perform their wedding. “Seems like you made it mighty late to get round here to get married. The damage is all done,” says Pappy, before agreeing to their request on the grounds that “it’s never too late to do the will of the Lord.”37

The films protagonist, Pappy’s son, Zeke, makes unwelcome sexual advances to one woman early in the film and attributes his actions to “the devil.” After a seemingly powerful conversion experience leading to his becoming a traveling evangelist known as “Ezekiel the Prophet,” Zeke’s sexual desires overflow while baptizing a beautiful young woman, “Chick,” whom he immediately whisks away for an amorous encounter. At a later revival meeting, the two engage in an erotic encounter while in the midst of an ecstatic experience of the divine. As Weisenfeld explains, that Zeke ultimately kills another man in a jealous rage that also triggers Chick’s own accidental death reinforces Vidor’s condescending theme that the irrational simplicity of black religiosity is no match for the innate carnal impulses of an uncivilized race.38

Marc Connelly’s 1936 smash hit film, The Green Pastures, is a famous example of black religious life being filtered through the imagination of white artists. Based on Connelly’s long-running Broadway play, the story was inspired by Roark Bradford’s 1928 book, Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun, purporting to be a collection of African American folk tales derived from biblical stories that Bradford, a white man, learned while growing up in the South. Connelly featured the music of Hall Johnson, the famed African American composer, and his renowned choir.39 Like King Vidor’s Hallelujah, The Green Pastures presented southern blacks as childlike. As Connelly explained in a trailer to the film, while donning a three-piece suit and sitting in his Hollywood office, “The Green Pastures is a story of heaven and of earth as it might be imagined by very simple, devout people. And they look at heaven and they look at earth in terms of their own daily experience.”40 Babylon is thus a night club, and heaven is turned into a fish fry, where men fished and smoked cigars, while stern mothers chided their children for flying too quickly on clouds. Weisenfeld notes that Connelly placed African Americans somewhere between Modernist and Fundamentalist Christians who battled over biblical exegesis in the 1930s, by portraying them as “believing the text to be literally true, but also unable to understand the original context, an intellectual failing that required them to translate and modernize.”41

We can see other examples of religion’s intersection with race in film through Hollywood portrayals of Buddhism. Sharon Suh’s, Silver Screen Buddhism: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film (2015), looks at the way Western Buddhist representations often exoticize Asians. The proclivity in American popular culture for imagining meditation as the preeminent manifestation of Buddhist identity—a view which Suh notes distorts the relationship most self-identified Buddhists around the world have with the tradition—reflects Western (white) strategies of imagining the otherness of Asians. In this case, the asceticism, tranquility, and simplicity attributed to meditation serves as a foil for Western self-conceptions linking whiteness with complexity, modernity, and movement through time (in contrast to timelessness). From Frank Capra’s 1937 film, Lost Horizon, which exoticizes the bodies of Asians who live under the rule of a mysterious Lama in the magical kingdom of Shangri-La, to Seven Years in Tibet, the 1997 Brad Pitt film utilizing the Chinese invasion of Tibet as a vehicle for a white Austrian climber to find himself while encountering the Dalai Lama, Western renderings of Buddhism have been a feature of orientalism’s tendency to essentialize Asian culture as static and rooted in timeless and undifferentiated wisdom.42

Painting and Sculpture

Painting and sculpture have often functioned as significant inspiration for discourse combining religious and racial ideas. John Gadsby Chapman’s painting, The Baptism of Pocahontas (1839)—placed prominently in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building, is a striking illustration of these themes. At the center of the painting kneels a dark-skinned Pocahontas, donned in a simple and glowing white gown, beneath the outstretched arm of Reverend Alexander Whiteaker (also bathed in white), as his other arm sinks into a baptismal font. The two are surrounded by onlookers, both Euro-American and Native American, projecting a range of emotions onto the canvas. Two of Pocahontas’s uncles are visibly upset by the proceeding, with one seated on the ground, sullenly facing away from the baptism. The painting exemplifies the Euro-American confidence in the superiority of Christianity and their efforts to pacify, convert, and “civilize” the indigenous Americans while conquering the land for their own use. In time, the attitude underlying Chapman’s painting came to be called “Manifest Destiny,” a term connoting the Euro-American confidence that God’s providence assured the white settlers control of the territories for the purposes of establishing their economic and political systems while expanding Christianity’s reach.43

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) displays an extensive collection of artwork in its temples and visitor’s centers dedicated to portraying the life of Jesus Christ in the Americas, as revealed in The Book of Mormon by the prophet, Joseph Smith. In the case of the LDS, race and religion merge in a distinctive manner resulting from two aspects of Mormon theology. The first is that in the Mormon cosmology, God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son, are understood as corporeal beings who live eternally in the cosmos, and appeared to Joseph Smith in one of his earliest visions. As such, the two are rendered bodily in art and subject to racial classification. The second aspect of Mormon theology speaking to race stems from an ancient tribe inhabiting the Americas, the Lamanites (ancestors of many of today’s Native Americans), having their skin turned from “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome,” to a “skin of blackness” as a curse for their transgressions against their fair-skinned cousins, the Nephites, whom they eventually exterminate (2 Nephi 5:21–25). While conversion of the Native Americans (still understood as “Lamanites” in the LDS tradition), was a key part of the church’s millennialist prophecy (Doctrine & Covenants, sec. 49), the commentary on skin color in divine revelation eventually authorized a racial hierarchy that denied African American men the priesthood within a generation of Joseph Smith’s assassination.44

As a consequence of these features of LDS theology, Mormon paintings tend to depict a very light-skinned and light-haired Jesus and God the Father. Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, notes that during the civil rights movement, as the LDS battled protests over their priesthood being open to white men only (until a divine prophecy for the church’s president in 1978 rescinded the ban), Mormon art countered with an emphasis on the whiteness of Jesus. John Scott’s 1969 painting, Jesus Christ Visits the Americas, depicting a white Jesus with golden hair standing before a throng of swarthy indigenous Americans, became so popular that it was featured in the Church’s publications of The Book of Mormon. Also, a replica of Christus, the white marble Jesus sculpted in 1821 by a Danish artist, was placed in the Temple Square in Salt Lake City—the very site of civil rights protests years earlier. Soon, LDS welcome centers across the country had replicas of Christus adorning their spaces, crystallizing the link between Jesus and whiteness.45

Blum and Harvey also document one of the significant inspirations for imagining Jesus as a white man, the Publius Lentulus letter. The text—a forgery from the Medieval period—purports to be a first-hand account of Jesus’s appearance describing his complexion as “ruddy,” his eyes as “bright,” and his hair as “the color of ripe hazel nut.”46 While the Puritans had been shaped by the iconoclastic tendencies of the Reformation and shunned physical depictions of Jesus, by the late 18th century, Americans were learning about Publius Lentulus, and by the early 19th century, a slew of artists were inspired by its words. Advances in printing, coupled with the expansion of Christian missionary societies in the United States, soon led to mass production of white Jesus images.47 By some measures, the culmination of the white Jesus imagery can be seen in Warner Sallman’s 1942 painting, The Head of Christ, depicting a light-skinned, blue-eyed Jesus that soon became a ubiquitous feature of American Protestantism, with over 14 million prints sold within three years of its creation.48

The civil rights movement in the United States brought with it many answers to the white Jesus. Among the most famous can be seen in the case of the Rev. Albert Cleage Jr. (later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), who founded the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Detroit, Michigan. Grounded in a theology appropriating the American “One Drop Rule”—the legal marker of “blackness” in much of the country by the end of the 19th century—Cleage argued for the ancestral blackness of Jesus and his mother, Mary.49 On Easter, 1967, Cleage unveiled Glanton Dowdell’s painting of a black baby Jesus held in the arms of his mother, modeled after a black woman, Rose Walden, who lived in the neighborhood.50 During race riots in Detroit that same year, attendance at the Shrine soared as disaffected African Americans identified with the tangible symbol of black pride. The symbolism seeped into public action as a group of black Detroit citizens revised a white statue of Jesus at the city’s Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Seminary with black and brown paint. Some white Catholics countered by repainting the statue white, but the seminary’s white rector soon relented and had the statue repainted black. Although Ebony magazine, in a feature story dedicated to the race of Jesus, suggested the rector’s decision was “another way of taking out fire insurance” in light of Detroit’s riots, the seminary framed it as a representation of “Christ’s love for all peoples.”51

Review of the Literature

Through much of the 20th century, both popular and academic discourse treated race as an essential quality rather than the product of social imagination conditioned by power relations. For instance, the musical styles of black churches, in these renderings, pointed toward a unique spirituality endemic to blackness. Whiteness was so normative in these treatments that the category’s historical emergence and maintenance was virtually absent from scholarly discussion, not to mention art’s role in the propagation of such a classification.

In the 1960s and 1970s, historians, French social theorists, sociologists, and others were laying the groundwork for dramatic change in the way race was understood. While social construction theory was introduced to American audiences by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s, The Social Construction of Reality in 1966, it would be nearly two decades before Benedict Anderson’s elegant tome, Imagined Communities, unleashed a flood of historical studies in the English-speaking world devoted to the formation of collective identities.52 Despite numerous studies on racial construction in the 1980s and 1990s, the role of the arts as a feature of that construction was limited, with studies like Lawrence Levine’s landmark, Black Culture and Black Consciousness (1977), with its attention to the arts in crafting black identities, remaining the exception rather than the rule.53

Focused scholarship on religion, race, and the arts has been largely a 21st-century phenomenon, though still underexplored. In the visual arts, Marcus Bruce’s study of Henry Ossawa Tanner develops themes of racial identification and theological interests in the paintings of the African American expatriate. Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus highlighted racialized visual representations of Jesus, paving the way for the Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s more expansive look at visual imagery in The Color of Christ. Judith Weisenfeld’s Hollywood Be Thy Name was the first major study of religion, film, and black identity. In the performing arts, Julius Nowick’s exploration of Jewish theater, Beyond the Golden Door, deals with the genre’s role in constructing Jewish identities. Aspects of African American theater’s treatment of religion and race has been addressed by Judith Weisenfeld’s work on Hall Johnson, Curtis Evans’s treatment of The Green Pastures, Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s attention to the playwright Kathryn Tillman and to DuBois’s acclaimed pageant, “The Star of Ethiopia,” and Craig Prentiss’s monograph, Staging Faith, on religion in early-20th-century African American theater.54

As of this writing, works on dance, race, and religion focus almost exclusively on dance as an aspect of collective religious practice. In addition to Wenger’s work on the Pueblo people, Katrina Dyonne Thompson has contributed a comprehensive study on the politics of the ring shout. Among musical genres, Paul Gilroy’s work on the Fisk Jubilee Singers in his 1995 book, The Black Atlantic, was among the earliest treatments of religion and music in the construction of racial identity. Since then, Gayle Wald’s monograph on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s genre-bending career in rock, gospel, and rhythm and blues has contributed to the field. Rap and hip-hop have generated several studies by scholars including Monica Miller, Anthony Pinn, and Ebony Utley. Robert Darden’s book on black spirituals and gospel music joins Jerma Jackson’s scholarship in this area of study. Work dealing specifically with the intersection of religion and whiteness in country music remains to be written.55

Further Reading

Blum, Edward J., and Paul Harvey. The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.Find this resource:

    Bruce, Marcus. Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Spiritual Biography. New York: Crossroad, 2002.Find this resource:

      Jackson, Jerma A. Music in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004.Find this resource:

        Miller, Monica. Religion and Hip Hop. New York: Routledge, 2013.Find this resource:

          Novick, Julius. Beyond the Golden Door: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.Find this resource:

            Pinn, Anthony, ed. Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music. New York: NYU Press, 2003.Find this resource:

              Prentiss, Craig R. Staging Faith: Religion and African American Theater from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II. New York: NYU Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                Thompson, Katrina Dyonne. Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                  Wald, Gayle. Shout Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                    Weisenfeld, Judith. Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion and American Film, 1929–1949. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.Find this resource:


                      (1.) American Anthropological Association (AAA) Executive Board, "AAA Statement on Race," May 17, 1998; and Werner Sollors, “Foreword: Theories of Ethnicity,” Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: NYU Press, 1996), x–xv.

                      (2.) AAA Executive Board, “AAA Statement on Race.”

                      (3.) Brent Nongrbi, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), esp. 25–45.

                      (4.) Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Jason Ananda Josephson, The Invention of Religion in Japan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); and David Chidester, Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

                      (5.) Michael Hittman, Wovoka and the Ghost Dance, expanded ed., ed. Don Lynch (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), esp. 1–26; and Alice Beck Kehoe, The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, 2d ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2006).

                      (6.) Arthur Amiotte, “The Lakota Sun Dance: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” in Sioux Indian Religion, eds. Raymond J. DeMallie and Douglas R. Parks (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 75–89; and “Code of Indian Offenses (1883),” Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs.

                      (7.) Tissa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 7.

                      (8.) Ibid., 5–6, 17.

                      (9.) Ibid., 1–29, 92.

                      (10.) Ibid., 233–236.

                      (11.) Ann Wagner, Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans to the Present (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

                      (12.) Willard Gatewood, Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Wilson J. Moses, “The Lost World of the Negro, 1895–1919: Black Literary and Intellectual Life Before the ‘Renaissance,’” Black American Literature Forum 21 (Spring–Summer 1987): 64–66; and Jonathan Scott Holloway, Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris, Jr., E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, 1919–1941 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 35–83.

                      (13.) Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 68–69, italics added; and Raboteau cites Daniel Alexander Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years (New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969), 253–255.

                      (14.) Wilbur Cross, Gullah Culture in America (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2012), 246.

                      (15.) W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; repr. New York: Bantam Books, 1989), 177–187, esp. 178, 182.

                      (16.) E. Franklin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie: The Rise of a New Middle Class in the United States (1957; repr. London: Collier-Macmillan, 1962), 105–107; Anne Elizabeth Carroll, Word, Image, and the New Negro: Representation and Identity in the Harlem Renaissance (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005); and Craig Prentiss, Staging Faith: Religion and African American Theater from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2014), 21–25.

                      (17.) Monica Gordon Pershey, “African American Spiritual Music: A Historical Perspective,” The Dragon Lode 18 (Spring 2000): 26–27.

                      (18.) Wallace D. Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915–1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), esp. 100–110.

                      (19.) Lisa Jo Sagolla, Rock and Roll Dances of the 1950s (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2011), 34–35; and Randall Stephens, “Ask Your Preacher about Jungle Music: Race, Rock, and Religion,” unpublished lecture, November 6, 2015, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

                      (20.) Craig Mosher, “Ecstatic Sounds: The Influence of Pentecostalism on Rock and Roll,” Popular Music and Society 31.1 (January 2008): 95–112.

                      (21.) Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock “n” Roll (1988; repr. Hamden, CT: Da Capo Press, 1993), 42, italics added; and Stephens, “Ask Your Preacher about Jungle Music,” November 6, 2015.

                      (22.) Geoff Mann, “Why Does Country Music Sound White? Race and the Voice of Nostalgia,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 31.1 (January 2008): 73–100, esp. 74, 89, 91; and cites John Mowitt, Percussion: Drumming, Beating, Striking (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 57–58.

                      (23.) Kim Williams and Doug Johnson, “Three Wooden Crosses,” performed by Randy Travis, CD, Rise and Shine, Word Music, 2002.

                      (24.) Julius Novick, Beyond the Golden Door: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 9.

                      (25.) Israel Zangwill, The Melting-Pot (1909; repr. New York: Macmillan, 1917), 33.

                      (26.) Ibid., 184–185.

                      (27.) Daniel Greene, “A Chosen People in a Pluralist Nation: Kallen and the Jewish American Experience,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 16 (Summer 2006): 161–194, esp. 167–168; see also Greene, The Jewish Origins of Cultural Pluralism: The Menorah Association and American Diversity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 11–13; and Novick, Beyond the Golden Door, 9–13.

                      (28.) Jaleel Akhtar, Dismemberment in the Fiction of Toni Morrison (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 14.

                      (29.) George Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (New York: Harper and Row, 1971); and Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1–41, esp. 1, 31, 37.

                      (30.) Randolph Edmonds, “The Negro in the American Theatre, 1700–1969,” 49–53, unpublished paper delivered to American College Theatre Festival, Washington, DC, 1969, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; see also Prentiss, Staging Faith, 29.

                      (31.) Ridgely Torrence, “Granny Maumee,” Granny Maumee, The Rider of Dreams, Simon the Cyrenian: Plays for a Negro Theatre (New York: Macmillan, 1917): 3–31; and Prentiss, Staging Faith, 30.

                      (32.) Torrence, “Rider of Dreams,” Plays for a Negro Theater, 33–76; Ernest Howard Culbertson, Goat Alley: A Tragedy of Negro Life (Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd, 1922), esp. 12–13, 83–93; Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones (Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd, 1920); and Prentiss, Staging Faith, 30–31.

                      (33.) DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward, Porgy: A Play in Four Acts (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1927); George Gershwin, Porgy and Bess (1935; repr. New York: American Theater Press, 1976); Paul Green, “In Abraham’s Bosom,” in In the Field of God and in Abraham’s Bosom (New York: Robert McBride, 1927), 13–141; Paul Green, Roll Sweet Chariot: A Symphonic Play of the Negro People (New York: Samuel French, 1935); Em Jo Basshe, Earth: A Play in Seven Scenes (New York: Macaulay, 1927), x, 113; Richard A. Reuss and JoAnne C. Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927–1957 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 35; and Prentiss, Staging Faith, 31.

                      (34.) Prentiss, Staging Faith, esp. 5–9.

                      (35.) Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 134–135.

                      (36.) Craig R. Prentiss, “‘Terrible Laughing God’: Challenging Divine Justice in African American Anti-Lynching Plays, 1916–1945,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 18.2 (Summer 2008): 177–214; and Prentiss, Staging Faith, 73–108.

                      (37.) Judith Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion and American Film, 1929–1949 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 20–51, esp. 20, 32.

                      (38.) Ibid., esp. 34, 42.

                      (39.) On the Broadway production of The Green Pastures, see Evans, The Burden of Black Religion, 202–221.

                      (41.) Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name, 52–87, esp. 70.

                      (42.) Sharon A. Suh, Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), esp. 3, 56; Lost Horizon, directed by Frank Capra (1937; Culver City, CA: Sony Home Pictures, 1999), DVD; and Seven Years in Tibet, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (1997; Culver City, CA: Sony Home Pictures, 2004), DVD.

                      (43.) Matthew Baigell, “Territory, Race, Religion: Images of Manifest Destiny,” Smithsonian Studies of American Art 4 (Summer/Autumn 1990): 7–9; and Architect of the Capitol website page on “Baptism of Pocahontas.”

                      (44.) Craig Prentiss, “‘Loathsome unto Thy People’: The Latter-day Saints and Racial Categorization,” Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity: An Introduction, ed. Craig R. Prentiss (New York: NYU Press, 2003), 124–139.

                      (45.) Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 253–255; see also John Turner, “An Icon of Mormon Christianity,” The Anxious Bench Blog (August 2, 2012).

                      (46.) Blum and Harvey, The Color of Christ, 20–21.

                      (47.) Ibid., 78–87.

                      (48.) Ibid., 208–211.

                      (49.) Craig Prentiss, “Coloring Jesus: Racial Calculus and the Search for Identity in Twentieth Century America,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 11.3 (February 2008): 64–82.

                      (50.) Angela D. Dillard, Faith in the City: Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 287–288.

                      (51.) Blum and Harvey, The Color of Christ, 220–221; Alex Poinsett, “The Quest for a Black Christ: Radical Clerics Reject ‘Honky Christ’ Created by American-Culture Religion,” Ebony 24 (March 1969): 172; and “Sacred Heart Major Seminary: History.”

                      (52.) Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1968); James Walvin, Black and White: The Negro in English Society, 1555–1945 (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1973); George Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1971). Michel Foucault’s Les Mots et les choses was first translated and published in English in 1970. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1970; repr. New York: Vintage Books, 1994); Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966); and Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983; repr. New York: Verso, 1991)

                      (53.) Lawrence Levine, Black Culture, Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford, 1977); Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 1986); Richard Alba, Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); and F. James Davis, Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1991), 142–156.

                      (54.) Marcus Bruce, Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Spiritual Biography (New York: Crossroad, 2002); Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003); Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); Judith Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion and American Film, 1929–1949 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Julius Novick, Beyond the Golden Door: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Weisenfeld, “‘The Secret at the Root’: Performing African American Religious Modernity in Hall Johnson’s, Run Little Chillun’,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 21 (Winter 2011): 39–80; Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), esp. 203–221; Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); and Craig Prentiss, Staging Faith: Religion and African American Theater from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2014).

                      (55.) Tissa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Katrina Dyonne Thompson, Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2014); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993), 72–110, esp. 90; Gayle F. Wald, Shout Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharp (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007); Monica Miller, Religion and Hip Hop (New York: Routledge, 2013); Anthony Pinn, ed., Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music (New York: NYU Press, 2003); Ebony A. Utley, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press, 2012); Robert Darden, People Get Ready: A New History of Gospel Music (New York: Continuum, 2004); and Jerma A. Jackson, Music in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).