This essay explores the relationship between racial identity and religion. It discusses the perspectives that African American, American-Indian and Asian-American communities have on this relationship and to what degree (and from what historical, political and social indications) racial identity plays a role in a person’s religion and vice versa. Specific examples of historical incidences are also cited as experienced in these racial groups.
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It has been long suggested that Christianity became the religion of the world through Africa. From a historical perspective, the African Americans trace their religion to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, established after the Coptic Church of Egypt; hence the Orthodox Church came long before all other Christian communions of America (Prentiss 2003). This shows consistency with long-term signs which have been made and they show a relationship between African slave descendants and descendants from ancient African-American society (Wilmore 2002).
This union has been suggested by many African-Americans, Ethiopian leaders and Coptic Church leaders (Prentiss 2003). Furthermore, many of African-American Christians have in their memories Alexandria’s confession issued by the 1976 114-member general committee on all African Conference of Churches that focuse on Egyptian and Ethiopian churches as a priority (Annette 1992). Furthermore, the alignment of African-Americans to the Egyptian Coptic Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Church especially in North America can be traced back to the close identification of African-Americans to the only independent and black nation in the nineteenth and twentieth century (Prentiss 2003).
After the Ethiopian orthodox church became a member of the World Council of Churches, many major cities in the United States had black preachers or self styled prophets who organized purported Ethiopian Orthodoxies in their backyards (Prentiss 2003). In addition, the African American spokespersons of 19th century popularized the idea that the history of black religions including Christianity begins “not among slaves of pious whites in New Zealand and Virginia, or on the plantations of south Carolina or Georgia but in Africa” (Prentiss 2003).
Other documentaries which establish a connection between the African race and Western religion (Christianity) include Williams monumental, a history of the negro race in America, scholarly historiographer of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the rise of the black studies movement in 1960’s and 1970’s (Annette 1992). These literature, though less exhaustive opened up the cross cultural American exchanges including those previously overlooked. Therefore, understanding African American Religion and its history with its consequences for radical political and cultural approaches can be effectively accomplished when the religion in Africa is analyzed (Swearer 1989).
For many African Americans, the religious approaches of white Christians are unsuitable hence their religious conversions question their allegiance to the state and their pieties are of a different order altogether. The conversion of African-Americans to Islam on the other hand has a different effect other than taking on religions such as Buddhism (Annette 1992). This may represent a certain kind of political gesture. Therefore, African American conversion to Islam can be better understood as a reflection of American Christianity and the racist order of things in the United States (Prentiss 2003).
In addition, African Americans often have their political struggles inscribed within religious narratives and they develop their aspirations for freedom, and even citizenship in other cases as ends which are divinely sanctioned (Prentiss 2003). In this effort, a sense of the sacred helps African Americans to construct a social identity with consolidation of the ‘black community’ idea and this helps them to express prior unity even among individuals who may be thought as being different (Swearer 1989). In other cases, the African Americans, Budhists and Indians wage a battle over history, the future and memory. This may best be explained by African American icons such as Martin Luther king Junior and Louis Farrakhan (Swearer 1989).
Like other religions, different sectarian Buddhists exist in the United States. This shows the thriving and diverse religious views of people (Swearer 1989). There are increasing numbers of people who are focused on shaping American Buddhism. This raises the need for determining the kinds of interventions which are necessary to solve the problems of the Buddhist society. The American voices for Buddhism therefore form a larger majority of the educated white middle class (Prentiss 2003). Contrary to this, Asian Buddhists living in the United States have not been featured to a larger extent in aspects of development of American Buddhism (Annette 1992).
Between 1878 and 1952, a several court rulings and laws barred (on racial grounds) immigrant Asian Indians from acquiring the United States citizenship. This included barring the immigration department in different ways between 1858 and 1965. Female citizens who were married to Asian immigrant men were denied American citizenship and the non citizens were not given an opportunity to own land (Prentiss 2003). In addition, numerous acts of a terrorist and violent nature were directed towards Asian immigrants and this ranged from lynching of members of Chinese origin to denial of citizenship to members of Japanese origin many of whom were citizens by birth. The immigrants of Asian origin and their descendants were oriented towards ethnically focused communities in partial response to the existence of white racism which was lawfully supported and enforced with other strategies such as propaganda and violence (Swearer 1989).
Different scholars have explained how racial profiling resulted to the American Buddhist churches coalescing around issues which were of ethnic and political concern to them. This includes the adoption of a number of the ‘protestant’ cover to appear less foreign thus being saved from the agony of racial profiling and persecution by alleged ‘xenophobes’ in the united states. Although continuity in linguistic and cultural terms is a fundamental need to a group of immigrants, forces which necessitate availability of places of refuge and ambivalence due to the side by side practice with Caucasian converts cannot and should not be overlooked. In history, this similar changes and dynamism has affected American black Christian denominations (Swearer 1989).
Other existing racist approaches towards Africans and other classical Christian concerns about clothing, modesty and also sexuality were also directed towards Indians in historical times. This was done through stereotyping and exacerbation and magnification of these stereotypes (Annette 1992). The whites when in contact with Indians resulted to a stimulation of anxieties which were later intensified. Like whites from other regions e.g. England, the missionaries always associated Indians with physical and moral dangers which were always coded (Wilmore 2002). For example, Indian women were tied to erotic license while Indian men to frontier violence. European travelers always communicated the aesthetic and erotic appeal of the Indian women as seductresses, playthings, beautiful allies or virtuous allies of the Europeans (Wilmore 2002).
Furthermore, Caucasians have also strongly resisted racial integration. Similarly in an Asian-American Christian study of churches which attempted to form multicultural congregations, members of African-American and Latino origin easily adapted to environments where they existed as a minority because of having a long experience doing so (Annette 1992). Whites had a difficult time adapting to a level which is marginal hence they left. In these ways, racism has determined the existence of religious communities in the American populace (Prentiss 2003).
Annette, J. (1992). The state of native America. New York: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-424-8.
Prentiss, C. (2003). Religion and the creation of race and ethnicity. New York: New York University Press. ISBN987-0-8147-6701-6.
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Swearer, D. (1989). Me and mine. New York: State of New York Press. ISBN-0-791 4-00557.
Wilmore, G. (2002). Black religion and black radicalism: An interpretation of the religious history of African- Americans. New York: Maryknol. ISBN 978-1- 57075-182-0.