Black History Month Reading

Some Suggested Titles from AAR's Reading Religion

Reading Religion is an openly accessible book review website published by the American Academy of Religion. The site provides up-to-date coverage of scholarly publishing in religious studies, reviewed by scholars with special interest and/or expertise in the relevant subfields. Reviews aim to be concise, comprehensive, and timely.

Below, the editors of Reading Religion have selected some books and reviews from the site and have shared some titles available to review. If you’re interested in reviewing books for Reading Religion, take a look at the guidelines. If there are any books missing from the Reading Religion site that you think should be there, email [email protected].

Reviews to Read

Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation

By Rima Vesely-Flad

From the review:

“By documenting the Black Radical Tradition as precursor and influence for Black Buddhists, Vesely-Flad situates Black thinkers as producers of knowledge about the Dharma, thereby pointing the way to the vibrant possibilities of alternate histories of Buddhism in the United States.” - Adeana McNicholl

Black Life Matter: Blackness, Religion, and the Subject

By Biko Mandela Gray

From the review:

“But the stories must be told. And Gray’s courageous take on offering theory and religious attentiveness to Blackness and Black lives creates a space where Ayana, Tamir, Alton, Sandra and so many others can be honored for the fullness of who they were to their families and to this world—and not only be reduced to what happened to them on this plane. Gray reminds the reader that they are more; that their love, lives, and impact still live on today. Their stories carry their intentions and dreams and possibilities further than anything state-sanctioned violence can do to them.” - Oluwatomisin Olayinka Oredein

If God Still Breathes, Why Can't I?: Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority

By Angela N. Parker

From the review:

“Parker identifies the Bible’s authority as conversational movement between the reader, text, and Spirit that is directed toward justice; in similar fashion, her text invites readers into a reflective conversation that cultivates capacities for full-throated breathing.” - Rebecca Rhodes Blackburn

King's Vibrato: Modernism, Blackness, and the Sonic Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Maurice O. Wallace

From the review:

“In Maurice O. Wallace’s [book], the sonic presence of King is brought center stage, where it can be seen as both the unique product of diverging aesthetic realities in modernism and the black church, and as a vital expression that continues to speak in black American life.” - Adam Sweatman

The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, Faith, and Food Justice

By Christopher Carter

From the review:

“By casting the history of soul food in an antiracist light, Carter explains how West African foodways were maintained within Black churches while also considering how they influenced American cultural practices more broadly. This model should encourage scholars to reconsider how Christian traditions in the US that supported racial segregation and denied the influence of Black foodways on their culinary practices might also promote the spirit of veganism as an antiracist practice.” – Chad Seales

Available for Review

Black, Quare, and Then to Where: Theories of Justice and Black Sexual Ethics

By jennifer susanne leath

From the publisher:
“In Black, Quare, and Then to Where jennifer susanne leath explores the relationship between Afrodiasporic theories of justice and Black sexual ethics through a womanist engagement with Maât the ancient Egyptian deity of justice and truth. Maât took into account the historical and cultural context of each human's life, thus encompassing nuances of politics, race, gender, and sexuality. Arguing that Maât should serve as a foundation for reconfiguring Black sexual ethics, leath applies ancient Egyptian moral codes to quare ethics of the erotic, expanding what relationships and democratic practices might look like from a contemporary Maâtian perspective. She also draws on Pan-Africanism and examines the work of Alice Walker, E. Patrick Johnson, Cheikh Anta Diop, Sylvia Wynter, Sun Ra, and others. She shows that together these thinkers and traditions inform and expand the possibilities of Maâtian justice with respect to Black sexual experiences. As a moral force, leath contends, Maât opens new possibilities for mapping ethical frameworks to understand, redefine, and imagine justices in the United States.”


The Sexual Politics of Black Churches

Edited by Josef Sorett

From the publisher:
"This book brings together an interdisciplinary roster of scholars and practitioners to analyze the politics of sexuality within Black churches and the communities they serve. In essays and conversations, leading writers reflect on how Black churches have participated in recent discussions about issues such as marriage equality, reproductive justice, and transgender visibility in American society. They consider the varied ways that Black people and groups negotiate the intersections of religion, race, gender, and sexuality across historical and contemporary settings.

Individually and collectively, the pieces included in this book shed light on the relationship between the cultural politics of Black churches and the broader cultural and political terrain of the United States. Contributors examine how churches and their members participate in the formal processes of electoral politics as well as how they engage in other processes of social and cultural change. They highlight how contemporary debates around marriage, gender, and sexuality are deeply informed by religious beliefs and practices.

Through a critically engaged interdisciplinary investigation, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches develops an array of new perspectives on religion, race, and sexuality in American culture.”


We Pursue Our Magic: A Spiritual History of Black Feminism

By Marina Magloire

From the publisher:
“Drawing on the collected archives of distinguished twentieth-century Black woman writers such as Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, Lorraine Hansberry, and others, Marina Magloire traces a new history of Black feminist thought in relation to Afro-diasporic religion. Beginning in the 1930s with the pathbreaking ethnographic work of Katherine Dunham and Zora Neale Hurston in Haiti and ending with the present-day popularity of Afro-diasporic spiritual practices among Black women, she offers an alternative genealogy of Black feminism, characterized by its desire to reconnect with ancestrally centered religions like Vodou.

Magloire reveals the tension, discomfort, and doubt at the heart of each woman’s efforts to connect with ancestral spiritual practices. These revered writers are often regarded as unchanging monuments to Black womanhood, but Magloire argues that their feminism is rooted less in self-empowerment than in a fluid pursuit of community despite the inevitable conflicts wrought by racial capitalism. The subjects of this book all model a nuanced Black feminist praxis grounded in the difficult work of community building between Black women across barriers of class, culture, and time.”


Dancing in My Dreams: A Spiritual Biography of Tina Turner

By Ralph H. Craig and Jan Willis

From the publisher:
“If you don’t know Tina Turner’s spirituality, you don’t know Tina.

When Tina Turner reclaimed her throne as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1980s, she attributed her comeback to one thing: the wisdom and power she found in Buddhism. Her spiritual transformation is often overshadowed by the rags-to-riches arc of her life story. But in this groundbreaking biography, Ralph H. Craig III traces Tina’s journey from the Black Baptist church to Buddhism and situates her at the vanguard of large-scale movements in religion and pop culture.

Paying special attention to the diverse metaphysical beliefs that shaped her spiritual life, Craig untangles Tina’s Soka Gakkai Buddhist foundation; her incorporation of New Age ideas popularized in ’60s counterculture; and her upbringing in a Black Baptist congregation, alongside the influences of her grandmothers’ disciplinary and mystical sensibilities. Through critical engagement with Tina’s personal life and public brand, Craig sheds light on how popular culture has been used as a vehicle for authentic religious teaching. Scholars and fans alike will find Dancing in My Dreams as enlightening as the iconic singer herself.”


The Black Coptic Church: Race and Imagination in a New Religion

By Leonard Cornell McKinnis

From the publisher:
“From the Moorish Science Temple to the Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine to the Commandment Keepers sect of Black Judaism, myriad Black new religious movements developed during the time of the Great Migration. Many of these stood outside of Christianity, but some remained at least partially within the Christian fold. The Black Coptic Church is one of these.

Black Coptics combined elements of Black Protestant and Black Hebrew traditions with Ethiopianism as a way of constructing a divine racial identity that embraced the idea of a royal Egyptian heritage for its African American followers, a heroic identity that was in stark contrast to the racial identity imposed on African Americans by the white dominant culture. This embrace of a royal Blackness—what McKinnis calls an act of “fugitive spirituality”—illuminates how the Black Coptic tradition in Chicago and beyond uniquely employs a religio-performative imagination.

McKinnis asks, ‘What does it mean to imagine Blackness?’ Drawing on ten years of archival research and interviews with current members of the church, The Black Coptic Church offers a look at a group that insisted on its own understanding of its divine Blackness. In the process, it provides a more complex look at the diverse world of Black religious life in North America, particularly within non-mainstream Christian churches.”