Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora / Edition 1

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"'I love the Lord, He heard my cry,' Deacon cries out as the newly gathered congregation, now seated in their pews, echoes his words in a plaintive tune." Thus begins the Devotional at St. John Progressive Baptist Church, one of many Afro-Baptist services that Walter Pitts observed in the dual role of anthropologist and church pianist. Based on extensive fieldwork in black Baptist churches in rural Texas, this is a major new study of the African origins of African-American forms of worship. Over a period of five years, Pitts, a scholar of anthropology and linguistics, played the piano at and recorded numerous worship services. Offering an extensive history of Afro-Baptist religion in the American South, he compares the ritual structures he observed with those of traditional African worship and other religious rituals of African origin in the New World. Through these historical comparisons, coupled with sociolinguistic analysis, Pitts uncovers striking parallels between Afro-Baptist services and the rituals of Western and Central Africa, as well as African-derived rituals in the United States Sea Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Pitts demonstrates that African and African-American worship share an underlying binary structure: the somber melancholy of the first ritual frame and the joyful, ecstatic trance of the second frame, both essential to the fulfillment of that structure. Of particular interest is his discovery of the way in which the deliberate heightening and strategic suppression of "black English" contribute to this binary structure of worship. This highly original study, with a foreword by Vincent Wimbush, creates a memorable portrait of this vital, yet misunderstood aspect of African-American culture. A model for the investigation of African retentions in the diaspora, Old Ship of Zion will be of keen interest to students and scholars of cultural anthropology, religious studies, and African-American studies, as well as those concerned with the cult
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A marvelous groundbreaking study of African American ritual practices in rural churches in Texas....Pitts's major contribution lies in his extensive cross-cultural comparisons between the Afro-Baptist rituals in Texas with those of traditional African religions in Central and Western Africa, including some of the African-derived religions such as Jamaican Cumina, Haitian Vodun, and Brazilian Candomble....A delight to read. Highly recommended for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars of religious studies, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, and African American studies."--Choice

"Undoubtedly, this is the best book in print on African American worship in the Baptist and Methodist traditions, and it should be required reading for all seminary students, pastors, and others interested in gaining helpful analytical tools with which to understand this unique phenomenon. I am confident that all students of African American religion will be greatly indebted to Professor Pitts, both for his constructive analysis and his many valuable insights that permeate virtually every page of the book. Further, teachers of homiletics, worship, field education, history, and ethics will find this book a most valuable resource."--Theology Today

"A fascinating and well-written book....Gives great insight into the religious life of Blacks in the South....An excellent example of how to study non-liturgical churches from a human sciences perspective."--Expository Times

"A serious and respectful analysis of symbols and meanings which comed from the deepest levels of culture...a magnificent piece of descriptive prose."--University of Colorodo at Boulder

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195111453
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Series: Religion in America Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Lexile: 1590L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

former Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Louisiana State University
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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 "Magnificence, Beauty, Poetry, and Color": The Afro-Baptist Church, Its Ritual and Frames 11
2 "We Free!" History of the Afro-Baptist Church 34
3 "I Want to Be at the Meeting": A History of Afro-Baptist Speech and Hymnody 59
4 "Kabiesile Shango!" A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Ritual Frames 91
5 "Nothing New under the Sun": The Variation of Speech and Song in the Afro-Baptist Ritual 132
6 "Like a Ship": Afro-Baptist Ritual Process 155
References 177
Audiography 189
Index 191
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