Black Faith and the Black Radical Tradition

January 6, 2022

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Much of Black-led activism today issues a radical challenge to liberal democracy. Consider, for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which has called for defunding the police, or the Nap Ministry, which advocates for rest as a form of resistance to capitalism. Both of these movements not only call for a radical rethinking of the political status quo, but also can be said to exemplify the ways in which Black radical thought is shaped by ethical and religious principles: The BLM movement incorporates elements of Africana spirituality and Black feminist ethics, while the Nap Ministry draws from Black liberation and womanist theology. These are just two contemporary movements that highlight the important role of ethics and religion in Black radical activism.

A recently released book, We Testify with Our Lives: How Religion Transformed Radical Thought from Black Power to Black Lives Matter (Columbia University Press, 2021), by Berkley Center Senior Research Fellow Terrence L. Johnson, sheds new light on the ethical turn in Black politics. Johnson explores the ways in which Black radical thought derives force from often unacknowledged ethical and religious factors to position Black bodies as the primary site for the cultivation of human flourishing for all. To complement the book launch, the Berkley Forum invites scholars to reflect on the broader relationship between religion, ethics, and Black radical thought in historical and contemporary perspective.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What insights might the ethical turn in Black radical thought provide to the ongoing search for freedom, social justice, and democratic possibilities for all? In what ways might the history of Black religious radicalism find resonance today, in the era of Black Lives Matter and a resurgence in white Christian nationalism? What ethical challenges or possibilities might Black radical thought pose to the Black Church and other religious institutions, especially regarding political activism and gender identity? What lessons might the Black radical tradition provide on the practice of solidarity across lines of religious difference? How might ethical and religious elements of Black radical thought encourage global action to transform exploitative political and economic structures, beyond the borders of the nation-state?

related publication | We Testify with Our Lives

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