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Exploring black voices in religion: a compilation of art and literature

June 17, 2020

Literature and the arts are powerful humanizing agents. They enable us, however briefly or partially, to hear the voices of strangers and perceive slices of the human experience beyond our limited selves and cultures. As such, one of the most fundamental things we can do to catalyze a more open society is proactively seek out diverse viewpoints in our own lives.

The U Book Store has compiled a list of books that advance our understanding of racism and inequity. Building on this, we offer a sampling of music, visual arts, and literature highlighting black voices in religion, broadly understood.

Explore, enjoy, and expand your consciousness!


Sun Ra in his Afrofuturist science fiction film, Space Is the Place.

  • During the tumultuous 1960’s, spiritual jazz artists such as Alice and John Coltrane challenged musical constraints and strove towards transcendence.
  • One of the most fascinating spiritual jazz musicians is Sun Ra, an Afrofuturist who grew up in the segregated American south and claimed he was an angel from outer space.
  • The ngombi (harp) plays a central role in Bwiti rituals, a religious discipline of Gabon and Cameroon that combines indigenous practices with western Christianity. The instrument symbolizes the body and voice of the Sister of God, who communicates between the living and the dead.
  • Contemporary hip-hop artist Marcus Jamal Hopson, professionally known as Hopsin, demands a response from God in his song Ill Mind of Hopsin 7, reminiscent of the biblical Book of Job. Caution: sensitive language.


Transferring the vital spirit from a retired mask into its freshly carved replacement, Burkina Faso. Photographer: Bruno Zanzottera.

  • The son of a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church, Henry Ossawa Tanner was one of the first African American artists to achieve international acclaim, largely due to the deep spirituality of his art.
  • Masks and sculptures in West African ancestor worship are living objects that mediate between the world of humans and the realm of the spirits.
  • Laolu Senbanjo, a Nigerian-born artist whose work features in Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” creates intricate body paintings heavily influenced by the Yoruba religious practice of becoming one with yourself and awakening the spirit (Ori) within. Learn more about indigenous African religions through this interview with Harvard professor Jacob Olupona.


Acclaimed civil rights documentary, “Eyes on the Prize.”


  • A Time for Burning (1966).
  • Eyes on the Prize (1987, 1990).
  • 4 Little Girls (1997).

Dramatic films

  • Malcolm X (1992).
  • Selma (2014).


Raboteau analyzes the transformation of African religions into evangelical Christianity.

Civil rights and religion

  • James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (1975).
  • Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Mask (1952).
  • David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986). [Pulitzer Prize winner.]
  • Adam Fairclough, To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian
    Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1987).
  • Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (2003).
  • Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (1949).

Miscellaneous, including indigenous African religions

  • P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux, eds., The African Philosophy Reader2nd ed. (2003).
  • Paul E. Johnson, ed., African-American Christianity: Essays in History (1994).
  • Jacob K. Oluponua, ed., African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions (2001).
  • Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion, The “Invisible Institution” in the
    Antebellum South (1978).
  • Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude, eds., African American Religious
    Thought: An Anthology (2003).

Comparative Religion Staff