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Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  307 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Twenty-five years after its original publication, Slave Religion remains a classic in the study of African American history and religion. In a new chapter in this anniversary edition, author Albert J. Raboteau reflects upon the origins of the book, the reactions to it over the past twenty-five years, and how he would write it differently today. Using a variety of first and ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 7th 2004 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1978)
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Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Widely considered a classic in the field of American slave history, this book should also be considered a classic in our understanding of American religious history. In the context of widespread (if not near universal) hypocrisy of the white church and its participation in slavery, the faithfulness of Christian slaves seems to be the only redeeming aspect of American Christianity in the era of slavery. It might even be more accurate to say that Christian slaves WERE the true Church which stood i ...more
Jamie Howison
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is something of a classic in the literature on the slave church. It started out as a doctoral thesis, but unlike some books that have that provenance, this one really engages. Sure, there is an incredible amount of detail - and a huge number of footnotes, reflecting Raboteau's careful research - but it still reads like a great piece of social history. He's clearly taken by the back-story of the black church, but certainly not in an overly romanticized way. Essential reading for me, as I con ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
well aware of its shortcomings, as is Raboteau. deeply human, that’s about all i got.
Christopher Gow
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Though it’s not an easy read, this is a great resource, full of primary sources that provide a heart-breaking and challenging confrontation of oppressive white Christianity while also shedding light on some of the most encouraging and beautiful expressions of Christianity I’ve ever heard of in America. It’s inexcusable that this wasn’t a part of of the American religion classes I took in college.
Fred Kohn
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a very interesting read although dense in some places. Especially useful are the copious quotes from slaves, former slaves, and free blacks.
Seth Pierce
Oct 02, 2012 rated it liked it
While providing an excellent overview of the religious practices of American slaves, I thought the author repeated himself a lot. I would have liked more emphasis on the folk religion of Africa and more details on how those elements were adapted into slave religion. I did find the general description of Christian life intersting and disturbing--particularly the hypocrisy of plantation owners. There are many inspirational stories included in the book as well.
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Albert J. Raboteau, retired Princeton University Professor of Religion, wrote an exceptional book on the religious lives of African American slaves before the Civil War. Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South is a remarkable piece of work that examines how the faith of African Americans functioned under the institution of slavery in the Antebellum South. The subject of African American religion during this period was vastly understudied, leading Raboteau to shed lig ...more
This book is based on Albert Raboteau's doctoral dissertation in the 1970's and updated. Using actual transcripts of former slaves' description of their religious experience, he shows how the Africanisms came over and were incorporated into the religious practices of the slaves,. While most of his writing focuses on the Christianity of slaves, he also discusses hoodoo, conjuring and Islam as other alternatives used by slaves. The book has extensive quotes from documents recording the actual word ...more
Derek Brown
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Well researched (obviously) and important as part of the, at the time, burgeoning African studies movement. Perhaps ahead of its time in its treatment of the role of the oppressed in the history of the oppressors, and in its treatment of the encounter between groups as a place of innovation. Unfortunately, Raboteau's argument (and I think there is a good one: religious adaptation does not imply acquiescence or a "forgetting" of history) sometimes gets lost in the overwhelming detail provided (wh ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How did religious life among slaves develop, and against what obstacles? What was the nature of this religious life? What type of effect did it have on their character, views of slavery, desire for freedom, and views of themselves? Originally published in 1978 as a revised version of his dissertation, Yale historian Dr. Albert J. Raboteau answers these questions through inspiring first-hand accounts of black Christians persevering in their faith despite persecution at the hands of white slaveown ...more
Daniel Silliman
Nov 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book and essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Christianity in America. Some of Raboteau's findings (first published in 78) have been common knowledge in the intervening years, but that doesn't diminish the power of the sources he has excavated, or the incredible detail with which he renders the complicated spiritual lives of people who learned the Gospel in the hypocrisy of their oppressors. ...more
Bethany Harper
Oct 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I mostly skimmed over this book for a class I am taking, but it is a very interesting book with numerous testimonials. The power of religion in the slave’s life should not be understated. This book is great at presenting logical arguments and giving evidence in support fro my hw slaves themselves.
Maxine Bolden
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful and inspirational writing

Inspiring stories and testimonies, not just theory and intellect but heart and soul stories that lend credence to our historical understanding of slave religion and the people who practiced it.
Aveugle Vogel
"ghost of a bucket" ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well researched, fascinating history.
Garret Shields
4.5/5 - The most interesting book I’ve read so far in my American Religious History class. Impressive use of sources, and amazing look into the religious experience of slaves, primarily in the USA.
DISSERTATION: In-depth research into black religion after the slave trade, some commentary on slave trade’s effect on religion, creative use of songs and more as primary sources.
Susie  Meister
The strength of Raboteau's book for my purposes is its discussion on how slaves became familiarized with Christianity. Unlike many narratives, Raboteau's claims most of the slaves learned of the tradition from other blacks rather than from slaveowners. The author shows how the slaves could draw upon African traditions to integrate Christianity. Furthermore, religion acted as a lens through which we can see their creativity as many of the slaves had to act out their religions and rituals in secre ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
A year ago when in NYC we walked by a bookstore and saw this book in the window. I wrote the title down and ordered it for my NOOK. I'm glad I did. It started as a doctoral thesis and morphed into this book. It is rich in detail, observations and brings to light another aspect of America's religious heritage...a long neglected part. It has made me want to read further about the impact of all religious traditions brought to this country, either willingly or by force. I know a bit about how being ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
History is mixed and uneven. Otto Scott's The Great Christian Revolution reminds us that the history of the world outside of Christ is a story of slavery and sacrifice.

Christ having ascended to the right hand if the Father, the implications of His rule take time to work out in history and bear fruit, until every enemy is put under His feet, and the last enemy is death.

This book is a deep dive into the mixed and uneven progress of Christ's redemptive progress in one area of global transformation
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-south, hoodoo
After reading excerpts of this book in a few anthologies and seeing it in the bibliographies of several books I liked, I decided to read the actual book. I understand the book's importance in it's field. It's a great read with a more expansive and nuanced discussion than just whether Christianity played a role in slaves docility or rebelliousness. A basic and interesting discussion on Africanisms in the Americas (Carribbean and South America vs. the US). ...more
Nov 24, 2007 added it
Shelves: exam-reading
This book is a classic in it's feed and the book to which all African American religious history must respond. Therefore, it is something of a must read. ...more
Mar 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, race
very academic, well researched, dense with history and implication. not everything can read like pop-psychology, and he prepares here a foundation for many.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for all Americans, and it should be doubly required for any American who claims to be a Christian.
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Mar 27, 2019
Ariana Horn
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Aug 23, 2019
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Feb 29, 2012
Kassidra Martinez
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Dec 07, 2016
Garrett Spivey
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Oct 20, 2014
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Sep 19, 2013
O. Poole
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Sep 20, 2016
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Albert J. Raboteau (PhD, Yale) was the Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Dr. Raboteau came to Princeton in 1982, and is a specialist in American religious history. His research and teaching have focused on American Catholic history, African-American religious movements and currently he is working on the place of beauty in the history of Eastern and Western Christian Sp ...more

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