Contesting “the Black Church”: the Field of Black Religious Politics in the United States

Roger Baumann, Hope College

This paper analyzes black religious politics in the United States in field theoretic terms as a contested social space through attention to global solidarities linking African Americans with Israel and Palestine. Through a qualitative comparative study of four cases, it examines a range of black church responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—including pro-Israel Christian Zionists that work closely with the religious right, to Palestinian solidarity activists that emphasize a common emancipatory project between African Americans and Palestinians. The polarization of these race-focused responses to Israel and Palestine evokes broader theoretical questions about what black churches are, how they understand their political role and social significance, and how race, religion, and politics converge in competing ways. I consider the social space of U.S. black churches as dynamic and contested, attending to how actors in the field of black religious politics are constantly negotiating a core shared identity, subject to appropriation and re-appropriation across racial and religious lines. I argue that African American Christian engagement with Israel and Palestine is, in part, an expression of existing overlapping identities—based on notions of shared black church history, identity, and culture. I also demonstrate how the issue of Israel and Palestine provides a new context for reworking the alignment of these existing identities in global terms.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 96. Religion and Politics