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“BELIEF IN MAGIC IS OLDER THAN WRITING”: AN EXAMINATION OF ETHNOGRAPHIC AND LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF AFRICAN-BASED BELIEF SYSTEMS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1928-1988.

O'Reilly, J (2019) “BELIEF IN MAGIC IS OLDER THAN WRITING”: AN EXAMINATION OF ETHNOGRAPHIC AND LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF AFRICAN-BASED BELIEF SYSTEMS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1928-1988. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Abstract

This thesis maps representations of African-based belief systems in the United States during two pivotal moments in the twentieth century – the Harlem Renaissance and the post-Civil Rights/Black Power era. Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach and engaging with literary studies, history, and ethnography, it employs African-based belief systems as a lens through which to interrogate ideas about the interaction between race and religion, examine how blackness was constructed in the cultural imagination, and explore how racial politics were registered in various types of literature. Primary texts include works produced by the Louisiana Federal Writer’s Project, Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, Harry Hyatt’s Hoodoo Conjuration Witchcraft Rootwork, and fiction by authors Ishmael Reed, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, and Gloria Naylor. By tracing the ways in which representations of African-based beliefs have been constructed across formal and disciplinary boundaries, this thesis argues that at moments of self-definition amongst African Americans, representations of African-based belief systems began to appear with more intensity and became integral to the configuration of black identity in the U.S. It proposes that the texts examined collectively generate three dominant narratives about African-based beliefs: as a marker of racial inferiority; as a method to resist, disrupt, and cope with the effects of power imbalances; and as a means to reconnect with an African identity or ancestry. It argues that black artists and writers challenged the first narrative during these moments by generating the latter two within their works. It participates in current debates about how race is constructed and imagined in the United States, and offers insights into the ways in which racialized power is registered, reinforced, and challenged in the cultural imagination.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Twentieth Century United States; Race; Religion; Ethnography
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
D History General and Old World > DT Africa
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2019 09:26
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2019 09:26
DOI or Identification number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00011887
Supervisors: Price, J and Harrison, C
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/11887

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