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The Features of African-American Christianity Exploratory Essay

The African-Americans in the U.S. society of the nineteenth century played the significant and rather specific role, basing on the peculiarities of relations between masters and slaves, on the details of the Civil War, and on the features of the abolitionist movement.

The principles of slavery depended on the ideology of racism and the masters’ fear of the possible black rebellions for freedom. That is why it was necessary to influence slaves at the level of their spiritual life in order to prevent rebellions and oppositions.

Christianity, with its significant concept of obedience, could contribute to the development of the necessary ideology and slaves’ vision of their reality.

A lot of African-American slaves were forced to adopt Christianity as their religion because it provided the opportunities for masters to strengthen the control over slaves.

However, the development of African-American Christianity had many characteristic features, depending on the Christian principles of obedience and equality which provoked a kind of opposition for developing the slaves’ spirituality according to the masters’ views.

Although slaves adopted Christianity which in many cases was forced by their masters, the African-Americans used the advantages of the process to support their identity with the help of spirituals and utilized the ideas of the Christian freedom to participate in the abolitionist movement as it was stated in the most famous slave narratives.

The concept of slavery is historically connected with the notion of racism in the USA. The African-American slaves were traditionally discussed as the persons who could not have any rights because of their dependent position of being the masters’ property.

That is why slaves should obey their masters without any opposition to this norm or rule. The principles of Christianity are based on the idea of obedience, and those clergymen who tried to convert slaves to this religion focused on the slaves’ fate to obey because of their special destination and role in the world.

To spread this controversial thought which reflected only one aspect of Christianity and which was effectively used by ‘whites’ to misinterpret the Bible, masters forced the African-American slaves to attend ‘white’ churches where owners had the opportunity to control their slaves.

Moreover, those African-Americans who were converted to Christianity were actively used by the representatives of the Methodist, Baptist, and Anglican churches to spread the religious ideas among the other slaves.

Different methods were used to educate slaves and convert them into Christianity. Thus, “the missionaries and pastors of the Anglican church had depended upon a slow process of memorization and education to instruct the slaves in Christianity” (Raboteau 17).

The masters hoped that the principles of Christianity could contribute to strengthening their positions and to avoiding the possible results of the abolitionist movement.

From this point, those slaves who were converted to Christianity were discussed as people who had no desire to reach their personal and physical freedom. Nevertheless, the real results of adopting Christianity by the African-Americans were far beyond their masters’ expectations (Harvey).

If masters made accents on the idea of obedience of their slaves according to the norms of Christianity, the African-Americans determined such Christian principles as the equality of everyone in front of God in spite of their race or status (Raboteau).

Furthermore, the African-Americans’ visions of religion developed basing on their heathen customs and traditions which were combined with the basic Christian norms and concepts.

The African-Americans were inclined to perceive the religious notions in the form of hymns and spirituals which included their own interpretation of the Bible with references to their experience.

These spirituals reflected the slaves’ desire to become free and emphasized their way from dependence to spiritual and physical freedom according to the Christian tradition. Thus, the theme of spirituals was caused by the slaves’ vision of their position in the society.

Spirituals and religious hymns were the part of the slaves’ secret meetings because masters insisted on their own vision of the slaves’ fate and role in the society and could allow the attendance of ‘white’ churches.

Nevertheless, the impact of the African-Americans’ secret meetings on their religious and personal development grew.

The African-American spirituals were performed with the help of singing, clapping, and dancing, depending on different rhythmic structures which were typical for the African traditional process of worshipping.

All these details accentuated the connection of the African-Americans with their roots and reflected the African religious visions and customs. Thus, the African-American slaves created their own branch of the Christian churches, basing on their authentic religious visions.

These secret meetings of slaves can be discussed as their possibility to develop spiritually and stimulate the slaves’ social activity with references to the desire of freedom.

Religious hymns and spirituals helped slaves feel as being the part of a community and contributed to the development of the African-Americans’ cultural identity.

Secret meetings of the slaves in the nineteenth century developed, and they were changed with the independent churches which were organized as the modern African-American Christian churches where the process of signing spirituals is one of the most important activities (Raboteau).

It is significant to concentrate on the impact of Christianity on the slaves and their spiritual development from the perspective of the abolitionist movement and ideas of emancipation.

The effects of the process of the African-American slaves’ converting into Christianity were also significant for developing such literary works as slave narratives.

Slave narratives were traditionally presented as autobiographies written by the former slaves, and they were edited and published by the representatives of the abolitionist movement.

A lot of slave narratives were published after 1865, accentuating the victory of abolitionists and the ideas of personal and social freedom in the society (Whelchel).

Thus, slave narratives can be divided into several groups according to the ideas which dominate in these literary works. The largest categories are the narratives in which social problems or the questions of Christianity are discussed.

The most famous slave narratives are written by Frederick Douglass and Olaudah Equiano. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass concentrated on the details of his being a slave and social aspects of this unhealthy institution developed in the southern states of the USA.

The author also explained definite social concepts of freedom and equality with references to the Christian tradition, revealing the opposition between the concepts promoted by the masters and the real notions of equality and justice presented in the Bible (Douglass).

Olaudah Equiano wrote his autobiography with references to the impact of Christianity on his personal development. He paid much attention to the fact that the Bible helped him become an educated person and find the ways for the spiritual growth (Gates).

Those African-Americans who received the opportunity to free themselves from slavery accentuated the fact that Christianity helped them find the right way and improve their spirituality because of the ideas of the persons’ equality and personal freedom.

That is why, it is possible to state that many educated African-Americans used the principles of Christianity to support their vision of freedom and social justice, and they reflected their ideas in many slave narratives, contributing to the development of the discourse on abolition and emancipation during the years of the Civil War and during the post-war period when a new political and social situation in the country was established (Noll).

The former slaves explained their right to be free with references to the ideals of Christianity and rejected the principles of slavery in the country basing on the religious aspect.

The idea to force Christianity on the African-American slaves depended on the masters’ desire to support their social relations with slaves with the help of the definite religious principles and concepts.

The spread of the Christian concept of obedience provided masters with the opportunity to justify their relations with slaves and avoid possible rebellions. However, the spread of Christianity among the African-Americans did not depend on the masters’ plans.

Attending ‘white’ churches, the African-Americans were also inclined to gather at secret meetings to interpret the Bible and worship with references to the traditional spirituals in which the slaves’ desire of freedom was reflected.

Moreover, the African-American slaves accentuated their abolitionist viewpoints in slave narratives, many of which were written depending on rethinking the Christian concepts, the principles of equality and justice.

Thus, the ideas based on African-American Christianity were presented in spirituals and slave narratives.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. USA: Dover Publications, 2003. Print.

Gates, Henry Louis. The Classic Slave Narratives. USA: Signet Classics, 2012. Print.

Harvey, Paul. Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. Print.

Noll, Mark. The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity. USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001. Print.

Raboteau, Albert. Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans. USA: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.

Whelchel, Henry. The History and Heritage of African American Churches: A Way Out of No Way. USA: Paragon House, 2011. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Features of African-American Christianity'. 17 September.

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