Week 7: Black Religion

Image: Ethel Shariff in Chicago, 1963. By Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

First, a few housekeeping details:

  • Remember that this class doesn’t use Blackboard. Check the course website every week for updates and detailed reading instructions which will appear on this page
  • Get a copy of the required course book if you haven’t done so already. You will need it to do the reading assignments for the rest of the semester. No more PDFs of chapters will be posted. Lehman’s bookstore claims to now have rental copies in stock: check with them.

On the weekly Zoom sessions:

  • Audio of the weekly classes is on the  Zoom archive page. Same password as everything else to access.
  • Sign-up info for weekly Zoom sessions is on the Zoom meet info page. I recommend saving the meeting ID and password in your calendar or elsewhere to easily join


Lehman’s pre-graduate advising program offers weekly office hours for the graduate school application process and is having two sessions via Zoom. Wednesday March 24 addresses admissions interviews. Details and Zoom link at their website.

For Wednesday 3/17, there are two things to read.

  • Selections from Chapter 5 in Introduction to Black Studies
  • Dr. John Henrik Clarke’s essay “Image and Mind Control in the African World.” (PDF on Readings page.) Read this first to gain a conceptual understanding for Karenga’s approach in the textbook chapter

For chapter 5 in (Black Religion) Maulana Karenga’s Introduction to Black Studies.

  • Read pages 189-222, 225 (Black Christian Womanist Theology) and the section on the Nation of Islam/Malcolm X (232-239) only.
  • Focus on the sections on:
    • The Dogon Tradition,
    • Maat,
    • Social Ethics of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
    • Black Liberation Theology
  • Read for the following:
    • How central tenets (beliefs) of the Dogon and Maat shape the worldview of African people
    • How Dr. King and Malcolm X’s interpretations of Islam and Christianity form a challenge to the US

For Dr. Clarke’s “Image and Mind Control in the African World.”

  • Pay attention to how Dr. Clarke frames religion and religious images
  • What role does Clarke suggest religion should play?
  • How does religion shape people’s view of the world, according to Dr. Clarke?

Quick highlights from Week 6 (3/10):

  • Reviewed sections of Chapter 4 on Civil Rights-Black Power in Maulana Karenga’s Introduction to Black Studies (pages 150-168).
  • Reviewed Dr. John Henrik Clarke’s essay “Malcolm X: the Genesis of His African Revolution” (pp. 139-159) in Notes for an African World Revolution.
  • See the Lecture Notes page for a copy of my presentation with highlights from the text
  • Zoom wait music: Sarah Webster Fabio: “Together to the Tune of Coltrane’s Equinox”–on YouTube here
  • Intermission music: Jackie McLean’s “Melody for Melonae” from Let Freedom Ring–on YouTube here
  • Resource/for further reading: Peniel E. Joseph’s Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour a narrative history of the Black Power movement. In the CUNY library system here, the NYPL here, and you can buy it used online starting at about $5.

RESPOND to one idea in the textbook chapter or Dr. Clarke’s essay and DISCUSS it with classmates and myself with the comment board at the bottom of this post

ATTEND the weekly Zoom session @ 6 PM EST on Wednesday March 17

General reading strategies:

  • Underline/highlight key points in the text
  • Use the reading questions at the back of chapters to focus you: read those first
  • Try to understand the definitions of the key concepts listed at the back of the chapter
  • Make a note to ask the instructor to clarify anything you don’t understand
  • Note key issues, approaches, and dilemmas/challenges Dr. Karenga outlines

Discussion questions

  • See chapter/essay highlights above

What’s Next?

First half of Chapter 6 in Introduction to Black Studies

Comments on posts:

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the post for the “Leave a Comment” button below. Here’s how it works: you can use this to discuss points raised here.  A few points:

  • Your first comment will have to be approved by me: after that, you can comment without approval
  • Comments section will only be open to enrolled students
  • You have to leave your name (enter as first name and last initial only) so a) I can make sure only people in the class are commenting and b) you get credit for the comment
  • Remember to be respectful, especially when responding to classmates
  • The comments section closes 14 days after a post goes live

To ‘participate’ in the class, I’d like to see everyone 1) post a substantive comment of their own based on either the reading or my lecture using some of the questions raised or conversation prompts, and 2) to respond thoughtfully to someone else’s comment—not just agree/disagree, but add on evidence or ask a follow-up question. You can also ask a question–for me or others–but that doesn’t count toward your comment and reply needed for the grade. It’s fine with me if conversation continues in a thread as long as it does, but two responses showing a clear engagement with the reading will count for being ‘present.’ Does that make sense? You have two weeks to write those two comments for credit.


27 thoughts on “Week 7: Black Religion

  1. Throughout the course of history, blacks have been oppressed due to lack of resources. Knowledge is power because it can free blacks and they can develop their own sense of identity. The oppressed are the victims, who’s actions are of slaves because they are being controlled. Mass media, controlled people through religion. Religion is thought, belief, and practice concerned with transcendent and ultimate questions of life. “Whites” strategically used public images to convey their image of black religion by pushing their ideas on whites. They used black religion as “white religion” in black face.


    • They used black religion as “white religion” in black face! I really dig this line as it carries such authority in what you are saying.


      • I also agree with that line. They used the same bible that justified slavery to intimiafde them and shove their “ways” down their throats.


    • I agree with your post Teliah. White people have weaponized the Christianity and the Bible to enslave black people and to keep them enslaved. I found it heartbreaking that many Africans was content with this wrongdoing. In the textbook, it states that the enslaved would view their enslavement as fate. “I can’t help knowing my duty, I am to serve God in that state in which he placed me. I am to do what my masters orders me.”


      • I agree with all these comments above. Also, Islam was a predominant religion in West Africa, and so many Africans were forcibly converted to Christianity upon enslavement, which was then also weaponized as a means to subdue dissent, as Meosha states. It was horrible to consider, in this chapter, how religion was used so dramatically against its stated purposes, especially during the Holocaust of Enslavement.


    • Blacks have been oppressed i agree with you on that through history it has been like that

      but that is why we have prominent figures in the past like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

      to go about wanting change.


  2. In the context of a discussion of religion as well as the ways in which African people have been misrepresented through the many lenses of Eurocentrism, I was struck by Dr. Clarke’s open admission of “suspicions of all forms of organized religion” (355). However, that also makes perfect sense. According to his explanations, the three Abrahamic religions are often presented as the exemplars of spiritual thought. Also problematizing the place of Christianity in the African “pantheon” of religions, are the facts that Christ is most often portrayed as being white, and Christians actively participated in the Holocaust of enslavement. As Dr. Clarke also elaborates, there are more African Muslims in the world than there are West Asian Muslims, but he contends that the practice of Islam today is more influenced by leaders in the Arab-speaking world of North Africa and the Sudan than by those in sub-Saharan Africa. He points out that “no people can be spiritually, politically, or psychologically free when they worship an image of God assigned to them by another people” (351). (I am not going to comment on his engagement with Judaism, because it actually left me feeling quite uncomfortable.)

    The three Abrahamic religions seem to hold a primacy of place in the world’s views of religions in general, and are often viewed as standards against which all other religions are considered. But the irony is that Kemetic belief systems, such as Maat, the complex understanding of cosmogony and associated religious practices of the Dogon, and the Ifa traditions of ancient Yorubaland, are far older and filled with prescriptions for living harmoniously with others, respecting all nature, honoring ancestors, building a sharing society, and taking agency for one’s own behavior. In Dr. Karenga’s descriptions of these religions, I read nothing of wrathful gods. Rather, the ancient African religions seem to stress the goodness of the world and the omnipresence of the Divine. I also appreciated that the Dogon Amma has both male and female characteristics, “reflecting the Dogon concept of binary opposition as the motive and structure of the universe.” It is comforting to consider that in African religious traditions that God is both near and far, part of daily life, and present in the collective responsibility to care for others. By taking care of each other, we find both our own identities and our relevance to the world.


  3. The concept of Maat was interesting and I read that Maat has multiple meanings. Even though Maat has multiple meanings, Maat means rightness in the spiritual and moral sense in three realms: the divine, the nature and the social.


  4. I would like to make a comment on a question that was posed during last week’s class. It was something along the lines of: Who was a better civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X? Often times, people seem to pin the two against each other as if they are on the extreme opposite ends of the fight. Funny enough, Dr. King and Malcolm X are more alike than they are not. Allow me to elaborate.

    After reading the chapter on Black Religion, it is very apparent that religion was at the center of both Dr. King & Malcolm’s pursuit for black liberation. Malcom was a part of The Nation of Islam, while Dr. King was a Christian with socially focused concepts borrowed from Ghandi. One of the most popular controversies between Dr. King and Malcolm is the way they viewed protection. Dr. King believed in non-violence, while Malcolm X believed in self-defense. I think people confuse these tactics as opposites, when they actually are not. For instance, Dr. King believed that blacks had the moral right and responsibility to disobey unjust laws. He believed that it is immoral to participate in one’s own oppression. To accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system. Malcolm X believed that black people must do for themselves. Black people can not count on the oppressor to give them respect, and one must defend themselves in areas that the government does not protect, in their resistance to social evil. I think Dr. King’s view is very similar to Malcolm X’s viewpoint. X is also emphasizing that black people should not passively accept oppression. They both agree that black people should not participate in immorality. Therefore, black people should take the initiative to oppose these laws or wrongdoings against them. That doesn’t necessarily mean to do so with violence. Malcolm believes that people should not initiate violence, but people have the right to simply defend themselves against oppression.


    • Hi Meosha,
      Well said. That portion of class has also stuck with me! I feel like throughout my life, when learning about Dr. King or Min. Malcolm, they are being pit against one another as if they didn’t really both want the same thing, or one has to choose who was better between the two approaches. I think it’s really key that you stressed Malcolm X wasn’t encouraging violence, just when it became necessary in the way of self-defense because oppressors need to be shown that there are consequences for direct discrimination and violent bullying, but the law certainly wasn’t there to protect all Americans…in fact, at some points in history, the laws specifically did not protect all Americans.
      – Julie W.


    • you cannot compare the two, one wanted peace who is Dr. King and Malcolm X wanted to fight

      period so they are not alike in their approach towards oppression.


  5. When it comes to religion I believe that Christianity was “shoved” down African American’s throat. Caucasian people pushed their beliefs unto African American, and enslaved people adopted the religion of their masters. They were introduced to a Christianity by the same bible that justified slavery. Caucasian people weaponized the bible, and used it for their own agenda. Without the resources that they need, African Americans blindly followed the rules of the Caucasian people.


    • I couldnt agree with you more @ Joyce where Christianity was shoved down African American throat. If you pay attention to our surnames and from the inception those slave masters forced their believes on us.


    • I agree with your comment, both political leaders were different. I agree with Malcolm X when he said something along the lines of, the oppressed have to understand the language of the oppressor. I like that, statement because that is another approach to addressing a situation, and when we speak a language that our enemies speak, the message can be heard.


    • Ismail I had a liking for Dr. King he was move of an advocate, but for some reason Malcolm was always ready for a war he.
      Their approaches are without a doubt way different.


    • MLK also wanted religion to play a major role in his theories and Malcolm X wanted to start a cultural revolution to create independence and freedom of the minds of Blacks.


  6. Religion was always a topic I stay away from but I guess I am force to participate in this discussion.
    Like most of us as blacks are of the opinion that black religion is like black people they began in Africa. For us to appreciate African religion , one must admit similarities and also the differences without seeing the similarities as less different and the difference as evidence of psychological defectiveness.

    The Nation Of Islam : Messenger Muhammand seeks to free black people from mistaken conception about themselves and not forgetting their oppressors. This was done to make sure that they may raise themselves up and separate themselves from those who oppress them. He also argue that the true religion of Black people is Islam. Another of his argument was that Black people are in the nature of God and that what people oppress black people. As much as I have the united nation in my house I strongly believe from the inception of times blacks were oppresse by the white and they use the bible to their advantage.

    Malcolm X : I like that he argue that the oppressors can neither liberate nor restore black people’s positive concept of self.


  7. Dr. Clarke has done it again! I think he is just such a powerful writer – I hope this is okay, I just want to post a series of quotes from the reading because I think these still-relevant bombshells stand by themselves:

    “…that no matter what the subject is, ultimately the subject is education, image control, and thought control.” (330)

    “The one thing that might save the world…is the oppressed)” (330)

    “…their oppressor could not live by democracy or Christianity for 24 hours. And if he practiced either for 24 hours, that would be the end of his power. (330)

    “If the oppressed understood how power is maintained they would know that powerful people cannot afford to educate powerless people for fear that they will ultimately take their power away from them” (331)

    “The purpose of proper education is to prepare the student to be a responsible handler of power. Any other type of education is a waste of time.” (331)

    “When you are under the power of others, where other people determine your destiny, your actions are those of a slave…To be a slave is not to be able to determine your own destiny. It is not to be able to make the correct choices for your own life, where you have been in your life and where you still have to go. That is what power is all about.” (332)

    “If you don’t know the history of those who stole your history, then you don’t know your history…” (338)

    “No one can oppress you unless you oppress yourselves, directly or indirectly.” (338)

    “Most Bible interpretation and religious training is part of this attempt at mind control.” (338)

    “He blew it by trying and succeeding to enslave the Indian, and it was Christopher Columbus who suggested, after all the Indians were killed off, that the African be enslaved to replace the Indians.” (340)

    “When you answer to a name that is not your name you become the name.” (341)

    “I couldn’t find black people anywhere in the Bible and therein lies my confusion” (341)

    “In an indirect way the image we accept of ourselves determines what we think of ourselves and what we do for ourselves.” (343)

    “The Bible is an effective part of the European-controlled media that is often misused as a form of mind control.” (343)

    “In their expansion into Africa, Asia and in the Caribbean Islands and in the Americas, there are many places where Europeans destroyed old and well-functioning civilizations and replaced them with a system that did not work for either race…Invaders and conquerors spread their way of life in order to control the people they conquer.” (346)

    The people that did this to them are still enslaving their descendants one way or the other through the manipulation of information and the manipulation of image.” (348)

    “I found no textbooks being used in African schools that were written by Africans. Therefore, the image of Africa in Africa is still colonialist, with no emphasis on what happened in African before the arrival of the Europeans.” (350)

    “The educated Africans worship a God assigned to them by their former colonial masters.” (350)

    “Africa may need to step back into its history in order to move forward in its future.” (351)

    “We quickly forget that the African concept of social living was the basis of power. They not only had every element of socialism, they practiced it, and they lived by it, before the first European had a shoe or lived in a house that had a window.” (352)

    “The Africans had a broad concept of spirituality. They believed that God was in everything and part of every living thing…They had no word for jail, because no one had ever gone to one. They had no word for orphanage, because no one had ever thrown away children. They had no word for nursing home or old peoples’ home, because no one threw way their mother or their grandma. They lived in a humane society…” (353)

    “I am a highly spiritual human being, with suspicions of all form of organized religion. I do not need a minister to preach the Ten Commandments to me: I have enough humanity and common sense to obey them…” (355)

    “Religions and denominations are cultist. They put people in groups, they divide people, they divide families…” (358)

    “We have not learned that to have a civilization, people must first be civil.” (360)

    “We need to look at our failure to see the image of ourselves in power.” (361)

    “Until we believe we belong there, we will not get there….We are perhaps the only people that can do this because, since we gave the world the first humanity, we can give the world a new humanity, we can the the world a new humanity at a time when it needs it most.” (362-363)

    “Because the Europeans did not have enough manpower to control the vast territories and populations they were taking over in Africa and Asia, they began to use the media as a form of mind control, colonizing people all around the world, just as they also colonized information about the world.” (363)

    “Powerful people never have to prove anything to anyone….Powerful people never teach powerless people how to take their power away from them.” (364)

    The entire excerpt is incredible, but these quotes are the ones that slapped me right across the face lol.

    – Julie W


    • Hi Julie,
      “Africa may need to step back into its history in order to move forward in its future.” (351)
      This is probably one of my favorite quotes, and I believe the this to be a determining factor on the future of Africa and its people around the world. A clear understanding of Africa’s history, greatness and failures is needed in order to the change the future of Africa and its people around the world for the better.


      • Sorry, I just saw this!! Yes, I love that quote. It’s a great play off his metaphor of history as a clock and compass, to understand the truth of the past, all the way to the beginning, before you can really forge a path to your future. So much wisdom in that for all of us…


  8. The Dogon Tradition is one of the most complexed and impressive African religious system. There were Europeans who argued that the Dogon knowledge was alien like due to their astronomical knowledge. The Dogon Tradition created their world and followed through with their accomplishments of social and spiritual tasks through the elaboration of extreme cosmology.

    Maat rooted from the ancient Egyptians ethical thoughts and practices. Maat is a path and guide to a rewarding life. It also means rightness in the spiritual and moral purpose in the Divine, the natural, and the social. The Maatian people practiced and promoted the Seven Cardinal Virtues ( truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity, and order. Maat has basic tenets that explains its practice which one of them was that humans are in the image of God.

    MLK had five key core concepts to his theory. First theory was King posed Blacks as a people who were suffering and were majorly struggling socially The second theory was King argued that Blacks had the right to disobey unjust laws due to the way they were treated. The third theory was King’s belief on oppression was its terrible and a coward way of living. The fourth theory was King believed religion was a essentially a social and spiritual job. Last theory was human life is improvable through struggling. This was what inspired the Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology is a rule of God committed to the liberation of Black people.

    Malcolm X also had key concepts. One theory was he wanted to free the African mind and make them independent as well strengthen them in their hard times. Another theory was he wanted respect and equality for women.


  9. Black region played an important role in the black liberation moment. One of the Leaders of this moment was Min. Malcom X who himself was a walking example of what we can achieve as individuals if we change ourselves conceptions giving to us by our oppressors.
    First, Min Malcolm socio-ethical teaching argued that the liberating truth and knowledge was found in Islam, and that “Christianity was morally bankrupt and spiritual deficient” he stated that “every country the white man conquered with guns, he has always paved the way and salvaged his conscience by carrying the bible”.
    Second, Min. Malcolm called for a culture revolution, a revolution for the African man to stop seeing and judging himself by Eurocentric point of view and recapture their African heritage. This revolution would be executed by studying of history, African history in order to rediscover ourselves.
    Third, Min. Malcolm insisted on the social responsibility of religion and only embracing a religion that which supported the libation struggle.
    Four, Min. Malcom argued that we should move away from the concept of protective respect for women to a better and more ethical concept of recognizing women as equal.


  10. The Dogon narrative reminds me of the Genesis in the Bible. They are very similar although they have different concepts. However, Christianity was brought upon Africans through the Conquistadors. Christianity as a whole was just another of many ways to enslave Africans. It was used as a way to promote white purity, white divinity and white supremacy. This is why Biblical images play a huge role because it was just a way to show African people “Hey look Jesus was white” “Jesus is good and pure that’s why he look like us.” They manipulated these images to make Africans believe that the only good and holy race was white. This reminds me of the book and movie The Color Purple because the main character, Celie, didn’t believe in God because he was shown to be white, and since white people were the worse of the worse during the 1980s she thought God was bad as well.


    • Hey Melody I agree wit you because when you think of God you don’t really have an image to reference. But to think that God could be one specific race is not fair due to making that race superior through religion.


  11. Hey Teliah, I totally agree with you. White people used God in their advantage to manipulate everyone around them, which is totally messed up because that’s not the meaning of God. However they used it to get what they wanted from black people.


  12. Dogon and Maat tradition shape the worldview of African people because it basically shapes their lifestyle and what it should be. Like Christians have the 10 commandments The Maat tradition has the Seven cardinal virtues. They are used so that black society can follow them and coexist with each other. On another note the Dogon tradition in itself or so to say the creation story is a cluster of life lesson. When Yurugu thought to rebel he did without thought of the consequences which led to his fat of eternal solitude. Now Martin Luther King Jr view on religion and how it was utilized help their battle towards civil rights. You see martin Luther used religion to insure his battle was due to religion. This helped him in the long run because it made religious figures such as ministers to get involved in this battle. To become voices that are heard. Min. Malcom X used the Islamic religion to make points in what he was fighting for. He used the Islamic religion to support their fight and make it righteous through this religion. He fought for Women’s rights as well which would help him because with more people not just men but also women speaking their mind they could be heard more.


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