Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics

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Dr. Josef Sorett
Release Date: 
September 01, 2016

Most of the major black literary and cultural movements of the twentieth century have been understood and interpreted as secular, secularizing and, at times, profane. In this book, Josef Sorett demonstrates that religion was actually a formidable force within these movements, animating and organizing African American literary visions throughout the years between the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts movement of the 1960s. Spirit in the Dark unveils the contours of a literary history that remained preoccupied with religion even as it was typically understood by authors, readers, and critics alike to be modern and, therefore, secular. By examining figures--including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lorraine Hansberry; Ralph Ellison, Roi Ottley, Ann Petry and Richard Wright; Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka--who have typically been cast as "secular," Spirit in the Dark troubles the boundaries of what counts as "religion" in scholarship on African American culture. The book, ultimately, reveals religion to be an essential ingredient, albeit one that was always questioned and contested, in the forging of an African American literary tradition.