When examining any particular culture, a variety of indicators can be used to describe people from that particular culture. In traditional African life, the sense of community is highly valued. Within the African-American culture, religion is the center of all things. For this community, religion affects each person in a unique way. The introduction of religion into the African community abroad has changed the lives of this community.
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The existence of religion in the African-American’s life is a unique experience to people from this community. It has never been experienced before that a group of people transported from their land, moved around the world to a place where they are not regarded as humans, are traded as animals, given new languages, raped, prosecuted, murdered and freed but still keep their faith (Adeolu, 2006, p 2). Faith was the only thing that kept Africans alive in the time of slavery, and therefore it was a part of their daily lives. Because Africans in slavery felt unwanted, religion was the only thing that made them see themselves as beautiful. This beauty is currently shown in every part of their lives. For some people from this culture, dance and music provide a creative means of praising God, while for others, the best way of respecting Jesus is the respect for life. Even artists who earn a living by speaking about wickedness and pleasure-seeking still, in the end, find a way to praise God in a way (Harris, 2009, p. 5). In the African-American community, religion is a way of life, and also it is part of a personality that, for many centuries of experience, has been shaped.
Religion and culture
The existing opinion of Americans has since time immemorial stated that the white churches make up the only significant spiritual movement in the country, and any other religion outside the white church is not important to the profile of the American religion. The burden of the conservative opinions about the black religion and the black church is associated with the gullible assumption that the religious experience of black people is just a replication of the religious experience of the whites (Harris, 2009, p. 1). No matter what the distinctive characteristics of the black religion are, this religion is a component of the American experience in religion. Seven main black denominations total to more than 80% of black religious associations in America. This is a considerable part of the total religious population, especially at a time when many denominations of the whites are declining.
About 15% to 20% of black Christians belong to many small black Christian sects like the mainline white protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. The black religious worldview of the African community in the western world is associated with their African heritage as well as their conversion to Christianity at the time of slavery and afterward. Scholars of the African-American religion, culture, and history have in the last 20 years started to realize that black people formed their own unique and distinctive culture and religious cosmos which is different from the white religious culture in which they were unwelcome guests (Manning, 2009, p. 1). As domestic servants and slaves in the plantations and farms, black people learned about some of the most personal aspects of the white cultures and life, but only a few whites knew or cared to know about the black people and their culture.
Some aspects of the black culture were viewed as odd efforts to copy the mainstream white religious culture. Black people were seen as people with no culture or as having nothing to claim as their own. They should have been given credit as a people because having come from other regions they had a practicable history and therefore they must have had an effective culture. After many years of slavery came one hundred years of segregation, both in North and South America. Currently, the gulf is still strengthened to a large extent by racism in the place of religion, residence, social life, and education (Irele, 2012, p. 1). Depending on the history and culture of a specific African community, different figures and objects have been termed sacred and worshiped.
The Christian God eventually revealed Jesus to the African American Christianity, and He dominated the black sacred worldview. The close relationship between the concept of divine liberation and the holocaust of slavery highlighted the theological opinion of black laity and the topics of black preaching in a very critical way and especially those churches that were very close to the experience. The black church was the first theater in the black community whose goal was to get rid of bad slavery memories and was searching for transcendence. The black church was not just a place to empty one’s emotions, but a lasting association with God and the official worship services offered the perfect occasion for periods of privacy.
Religion and culture are interrelated. Religion is articulated in terms of cultural forms such as content and style of preaching, songs, music, and forms of worship. Religion is the center of culture because it elevates the cultures’ core values to the highest levels and legalizes them. Black sacred worldview elevates the black culture’s core values such as equality, freedom, African heritage, and justice are elevated to the highest levels and legitimizes them. The black religion is the center of the black community. The black church developed new institutions like banks, low-income houses, and schools, offered grounds for political activities, and also cared for young talent for artistic, dramatic, and musical growth and development. A majority of the black culture is associated with the black religious traditions, including music, humor, literature, drama, and storytelling.
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According to the U. S religious landscape research conducted in 2007, black Americans are considerably more religious on different aspects than the whole American population. Statistics indicate that 87% of black people against 83% of the total American population are associated with a certain religion. It is also indicated that 79% of all black Americans versus 56% of the total population have declared that religion is very important. Numerous scholars have estimated that about 30% of African slaves were Muslims, and the rest performed their local styles of worship (Kasongo, 2010, p. 6). All of them were eventually converted to Christianity. Even though some slaves became Catholics, a majority of them became Baptists.
Currently, 83% of black Americans are Christians, and about 1% of them are Muslims. Research has shown that in the last 18 years, the black population has been changing. In 1990, half of the total African American population was Baptist. This number had since dropped to about 45% in 2008. The proportion of mainland Christians showed a significant decrease by decreasing from 12% in 1990 to 7% in 2008. Increases have been seen in the generic Christian category, including the evangelicals.
Approximately one hundred years later, almost a third of the black people have attained the middle-class status, and more than three-quarters of the black community now reside in the urban areas (Krause, 2005, p. 37). In America, African Americans are now the most urbanized communities.
In the 20th century, black secular institutions developed, such as black colleges and sororities. Independent black newspapers have increased in urban areas. The significant reality about the establishment of the secular organizations like the NAAP is that they were established with the assistance and aid of the leaders of the black churches. Secular vehicles were also developed to enable black people to cope with the pluralistic and multifaceted urban areas. The secular institutions allowed black church members and the clergy to influence the politics of the whole society without questioning the constitutional difference between the state and the church (Jang, 2004, p. 15).
There is a relationship between black churches and secular organizations, especially in the fields of economics, politics, and education. There is a lot of cooperation between black churches and secular institutions. The opinion of partial differentiation emphasizes that the religious tradition of the black population forms the heart of the black cultural heritage.
This correlation between the black religion and their culture continues dynamic relations with the secular institutions of the black culture. The relationship is seen very clearly in black music, whereby a majority of black singers and musicians obtained their first training and chances to perform in public gatherings from their churches.
Though some of the black musicians and singers went to sing and play other forms of music such as jazz and blues in discos, the secular culture slowly affected the music of the black church. Musicians changed Blues and rhythm music into urban black gospel music, and sacred music was composed to be used in the churches and other worship settings. Partial differentiation and interaction also exist in the education sector. Some of the best black colleges and institutions in the country were formed in the underground rooms of the black churches. These colleges were the training places for religious missionaries, professionals, and teachers. Their curriculum was guided by the sayings of moral education. These colleges produced great religious leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Anywhere the black culture was alive and energetic, so was the religious tradition of the blacks (Nel, 2008, p. 39). A lot of the black culture was built at the center of the religion and church of the black community. The fall of the religious tradition would have great repercussions for the conservation of the black culture.
Black churches are used as houses of worship as well as centers for socializing, cultural expressions, and ethnic identity by the African community. African American music is obtained from many sources; religion has always been the major inspiration to the music. It is not hard for the black community to sing in the church because music is the affirmation of unity. African American music originates from the polyrhythmic music of the various ethnic African groups. African oral traditions developed during slavery were used by this community to pass on their history and ease their personal suffering. In the 19th century, the music of the black community joined the larger American community (Adeolu, 2006, p 3). By the 20th century, the African American types of music had changed the fashionable music of the Americans. This was also the century when the African American Broadway shows were created. In the 1970s, the urban African American culture of using colloquial rhyming speech to put people down transformed into a new type of music. Rapping, which was a combination of speaking and singing of rhythmic forms of talking, was used in the streets and developed to a very successful cultural movement called the Hip hop. The form of music became a multicultural force, but it has always been very significant to black Americans.
The African American cultural movement led to the development of funk and also forms of Hip hop like rap. In the 21st century, the music of African Americans has been widely accepted in the popular music of the Americans (Sindima, 1990, p. 1). Older music types like neo-soul are being revived by black Americans as they attempt to develop new music.
Just like other facets of the African American culture, the black American dance originates from the various African ethnic populations that formed the African slaves in the western world. In the African tradition, dance was part of their daily lives and occasions, and so it was for the lives of the African slaves in America.
The majority of the African traditional dances and other aspects of African body language have survived and become aspects of today’s dance, such as get down. African American dance first appeared in the shows, which depicted African Americans as subjects for ridicule in big audiences. Black Americans forms of dance were largely accepted, and experienced white dancers often hired black American dancers to teach dancing.
Modern dance of African Americans has been passed on from the earlier forms of dance and is influenced by African dance styles. Contemporary American dance is largely influenced by the African American dance styles.
Oral tradition is a strong characteristic in many African cultures, and the lack of education for the slaves may have been a big contributor to the strong oral tradition of African Americans. Oral traditions became the sole way of maintaining cultural information and history. Various aspects of African culture have been passed on through many generations by telling stories (Manning, 2009, p. 1). Storytelling provided a chance for the slaves to encourage and educate each other.
The inheritance of the African American oral tradition is evident in many forms. The volume and tone of the speaker express the emotion of the topic.
In most preaching sermons, the speaker expresses the emotion of the lecture by dancing, singing, or pacing a verse in between the sermons. Rhyming and wordplay are aspects of African American culture, which have joined the mainstream American culture and have become global phenomena.
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Since the time of slavery, the art of African Americans has contributed significantly to the art of America. In the 19th century, art in South America was in the form of quilts, ceramic pots, and small drums (Lincoln, 2008, p. 382). These works of art resembled artifacts from the west and central African countries. Art in the western world was displayed by only whites. After the civil war in America, galleries and museums started to display African American art. African American art was ignored until after the Harlem Renaissance, when European Americans recognized the art created by African Americans in America.
If African Americans did not have faith in something better, it is highly likely that this community may have never made it to where it is now. Religion was the power that was driving this community, the light that got rid of the darkness brought about by Jim Crow and still is the guiding light for a community that had all reasons to lose faith. The African-American community has never lost faith even in the darkest hours, and for this community, faith will never be lost (Krause, 2005, p. 36).
The best way of understanding a group of people is to critically examine their religion because religion is tackled to be the most sacred list of principles from which the meaning and the description of life tend to come together. Religion cannot provide all the answers being sought, but a critical analysis of people’s religion can provide valuable information about the motivational and structural factors which lead to some behaviors significant in a specific community. However, it can be concluded that African Americans living in the western have maintained their traditional religious beliefs despite some changes, most of which can be attributed to technology and modernization, but deep inside, the greatest percentage of African Americans are traditionally religious.
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