Using Savannah, Georgia, as a case study, Sacred Mission,
Worldly Ambition tells the story of the rise and decline of
Black Christian Nationalism. This nationalism emerged from the
experiences of segregation, as an intersection between the sacred
world of religion and church and the secular world of business. The
premise of Black Christian Nationalism was a belief in a dual
understanding of redemption, at the same time earthly and
otherworldly, and the conviction that black Christians, once
delivered from psychic, spiritual, and material want, would release
all of America from the suffering that prevented it from achieving
its noble ideals.
The study's use of local sources in Savannah, especially
behind-the-scenes church records, provides a rare glimpse into
church life and ritual, depicting scenes never before described.
Blending history, ethnography, and Geertzian dramaturgy, it traces
the evolution of black southern society from a communitarian,
nationalist system of hierarchy, patriarchy, and interclass
fellowship to an individualistic one that accompanied the
appearance of a new black civil society.
Although not a study of the civil rights movement, Sacred
Mission, Worldly Ambition advances a bold, revisionist
interpretation of black religion at the eve of the movement. It
shows that the institutional primacy of the churches had to give
way to a more diversified secular sphere before an overtly
politicized struggle for freedom could take place. The
unambiguously political movement of the 1950s and 1960s that drew
on black Christianity and radiated from many black churches was
possible only when the churches came to exert less control over
members' quotidian lives.
A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.
Subjects: History, Sociology
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