To Know the Soul of a People: The Field Study of the "Folk Negro" and the Making of Popular Religion in Modern America, 1924-1945 Open Access

Drake, Jamil William (2015)

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To Know the Soul of the People: The Field Study of the "Folk Negro" and the Making of Popular Religion in Modern America, 1924-1945 By: Jamil W. Drake To Know the Soul of the People provides an intellectual history of the study of race and religion in the developing social sciences and folk studies of early twentieth-century North America. It chronicles how the study of African American religions coalesced around social scientists and federal specialists' engagement in the political discussion about the future of the "Folk Negro" --- African Americans who were typically low-income workers, inmates, semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. At the heart of my project is the notion that religious expressions of the "Folk Negro" became important scientific data to understand the unique behavioral traits that were purportedly in contradiction to the progressive ideals of modern America. The contemporary field of African American Religions has often used the term "folk" to capture a set of vernacular expressions and indigenous practices that characterized the lived or popular religions of southern African American communities apart from liberal Protestantism. Rarely has there been any attention to the actual social scientists and federal specialists who helped frame how we characterize the "Folk Negro" and their seemingly unorthodox and ecstatic forms of religious expressions in the everyday context of prayer meetings, revivals, cotton fields, labor camps and domiciles. To Know the Soul of the People takes up this neglected task by critically investigating the field works of Howard Odum, Charles S. Johnson, Zora Hurston, Alan Lomax and their institutional-affiliations (e.g. UNC-Chapel Hill, Fisk University, Columbia University and the Library of Congress). My research shows that a conglomerate of scientific and professional experts in these academic, philanthropic and governmental institutions helped to shape the way in which the field discusses southern and lower-class religious cultures in twentieth-century America.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Revival of the Folk-Concept in African American Religion. 1

II. The Negro Folk Religion and The Meaning of Progress In The Wake of Hampton. 10

III. Scope of the Study. 13

Chapter 1: "Treasure of Folk-Gems: The Religious Mind Of The Folk Negro and The Pitfalls of White Southern Liberalism. 16

I. Introduction. 16

II. The Folk Mind in Southern Black Religion. 23

III. The Origins of Odum's Folk Concept. 35

IV. Guy B. Johnson's Challenge. 45

V. Conclusion. 49

Chapter 2: "Folk Belief, Racial Liberalism, and the Cultural Deficit Hypothesis: The Roles of Charles S. Johnson and Fisk University in the Study of Black Peasants. 51

I. Introduction. 51

II. The Rural/Urban Problem in Race-Relations Study at the University of Chicago. 58

III. Charles Johnson, Fisk University, and Peasant Dilemma in Race-Relations Research. 66

IV. Negro Folk-Religion and the Cultural-Derivative Theory in Racial Liberalism. 78

V. Conclusion. 82

Chapter 3: Revision to Paganism: Zora Neale Hurston's Folk-Ethnography, Cultural Particularity, and the Search for the Spiritual Genius of Black Southerners. 86

I. Introduction. 86

II. Against Cultural Evolutionism: Franz Boas' Historical Ethnology in Indian Mythology. 94

III. Boasian Cultural Anthropology and Negro Folklore. 102

IV. Hurston and Black Paganism. 109

V. Conclusion. 125

Chapter 4: Alan Lomax's Romanticism and the Quest for that Old-Time Religion. 132

I. Introduction. 132

II. Recording the Souls of Black Prisoners. 139

III. Folk-Spirituals and American Nationalism in the "Roosevelt Age". 153

IV. The Folk and Modern Dilemma in the Coahoma Study. 159

V. Conclusion. 163

Conclusion: "Imagining the Religion of the Folk Negro". 165

Bibliography. 171

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