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The Gospel According to John Marrant: Religious Consciousness in the Black Atlantic, 1755-1791

Saville, Alphonso F. (2017)
Dissertation (245 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Stewart, Dianne M
Committee Members: Laderman, Gary ; Sanders, Mark ; Smith, Theophus (Thee) ; Hucks, Tracey (Davidson College);
Research Fields: Religion; American history; African American studies
Keywords: Black Religion, Black Atlantic Religion; Religious Studies, African American Studies; American Religious History, American History,
Program: Laney Graduate School, Religion (American Religious Cultures)
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/s0tx0

Abstract

In the historical struggle for African American advancement, religious ideology has been central to visions of black freedom cast by a host of religious leaders. Scholars continue to grapple with establishing common vocabulary that makes intelligible the rhetorical strategies employed to catalyze black communities for social change. Notably, Thee Smith highlights the presence of West African conjuring traditions in the religious repertoire of African American social movements. Religious practitioners, argues Smith, conjure biblical archetypes to make social action integral to religious devotion in Black communities of faith. While conjuring Biblical archetypes has functioned prominently in black religious communities, other typological referents for black religious imagination remain under-theorized and mostly unexamined. My dissertation explores John Marrant's use of typology in his literary corpus. Marrant, one of America's earliest black authors and preachers, employs the Talking Book trope to prescribe poly-religious identity as a strategy for navigating New World terrains. Henry Louis Gates describes the Talking Book as a rhetorical device that underscores hermeneutical indeterminacy as a rhetorical norm in black narrative traditions. According to Gates, the trope originates with Esu, the messenger of divine communication in Yoruba mythology. While Gates' theory has been a standard interpretive framework in African American literature, I contend that Marrant's use of the Talking Book locates African religious thought at the center of African American religious development. My reading also suggests that Marrant's Narrative uncovers a pluralist identity in early black American religious history informed by the hermeneutical indeterminacy standard in Black Atlantic narrative traditions. By highlighting the generative impact of African narrative traditions on North American religion, I aim to contribute to a growing body of scholarship that esteems African cultural perspectives central to the making of the New World.

Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Introduction.............................................................................................................................9

Chapter 1--No Continuing City ................................................................................................32

Chapter 2--Prepare to Meet thy God .......................................................................................76

Chapter 3--My Travels in Nova Scotia .....................................................................................135

Chapter 5--As Men and as Masons ..........................................................................................195

Conclusion ..............................................................................................................................225

Selected Bibliography .............................................................................................................231

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