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On the faith of the enslaved (I)

Summary

Catherine Brekus comments on aspects of Christianity that resonated for people in slavery.

Summary

Catherine Brekus comments on aspects of Christianity that resonated for people in slavery.

Transcript

Many enslaved Africans converted to Christianity beginning in the late 18th century in America and continuing into the 19th century, so that Christianity eventually became the dominant religion among the enslaved. And for enslaved women, these stories, I think, became especially crucial to their ability to endure. So when we talk about the power of Christianity, sometimes we privilege the transformational aspects of Christianity. We like to see people creating change. But Christianity has also been very important in helping people to endure situations that seemed unendurable.

And so for enslaved women in the early 19th century, when freedom seemed very far away and perhaps unattainable, Christianity is what helped them make sense of their experiences. And you can understand why they identified with a religion that had a cross at its centre. That Christianity as a religion is about suffering, and death, and trauma – but it’s also about resurrection and hope. And for enslaved Africans, both of those stories were very important.