Researching the Black Church

The church has long stood at the heart of Black culture in America. As a result, the study of the Black church experience(s), Black Christianity, and Black theologies is a critical aspect of the study, not only of religion in America, but of American history, politics, and sociology. In celebration of Black History Month, UPSem Libraries would like to highlight some of the most recent resources we have to offer on this important topic — most of the resources in this post were published within the last five years. In the coming weeks, we will also be building a much more extensive guide to resources for studying Black church history and sociology; we’ll link that on the Library website and post it on our Facebook page when it goes live. Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about the role of the Black church in American history and culture, why not start your exploration by checking out some of the resources below?

Databases and Research Guides:

Katie Geneva Cannon Research Collection: This research guide is a central source for information relating to the extraordinary life and work of Professor Katie Geneva Cannon, an esteemed and beloved leader of the Union Presbyterian Seminary community and a major scholar and authority in the field of Womanist theology and ethics. The guide is maintained by our Instructional Resources Librarian, Dora Rowe, and developed in conversation with the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership at UPSem.

Encyclopedia of Religion in America: This database examines how religious history and practices are woven into the political, social, cultural, and historical landscape of North America. Articles on “Abolitionism and Antislavery,” numerous African-American church denominations, “African American Religion” in several historical eras, and “Race and Racism” are just some of the topics you’ll find covered here.

African-American Historical Serials Collection: This database is a centralized and accessible resource of formerly fragmentary, widely-dispersed and endangered primary source materials related to African-American life and culture, collected from 75 institutions. It includes extensive coverage of Black churches and religious organizations.


Books in the Reference Room:

Books in the stacks:

Streaming Video Resources:

The Black Church and Black Struggle (SNCC 50th anniversary conference, 2011)
SNCC 50th Anniversary Conference Volume 23 – FEATURED SPEAKERS: Rev. Bernard Lafayette (SNCC Field Secretary), Rev. Nelson Johnson (Student Organization for Black Unity), Rev. David Forbes (Raleigh Student Movement). The Black church was born in struggle in the midst of slavery, and despite laws and vigilante actions targeting it for destruction the church has not only survived, but has played a sustained and central role over more than 300 years of Black struggle in America. This panel of Black churchmen, with very active audience participation, reflects and examines the historical role of the church, its specific role in the Movement of the 1960s, and the lessons of that struggle for today.

Interview with Albert Raboteau, Professor of Religion, Princeton U. (2017)
Albert Raboteau is interviewed about 1793 and the hope brought by the American Revolution, Richard Allen’s conversion experience, Christianity and self-worth, founding of the Free African Society, founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia, Richard Allen’s reaction to the American Colonization Society, white Christianity vs. black Christianity, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Denmark Vesey’s Conspiracy, Gabriel’s Rebellion, Jarena Lee’s conversion, separation of families, slave preachers, free black preachers and abolition.

Thank God: An Aframerican Docu-Drama (1985, Tony Brown Productions)
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
‘The music of the black religious experience,” contends Tony Brown, host of the televised “Journal” that bears his name, “is the primary root of all music born in the United States.” This performance/documentary is about the history of the black church in the United States.

Between the World and Me (2020, HBO)
First published in 2015, Between The World And Me was written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son, and recounts the author’s experiences growing up in Baltimore’s inner city and his growing fear of daily violence against the Black community. The narrative explores Coates’ bold notion that American society structurally supports white supremacy. Based on the 2018 adaptation and staging of the book at the Apollo Theater, this HBO Special combines elements of the Apollo’s production, including powerful readings from Coates’ book, and incorporates documentary footage from the actors’ home life, archival footage, and animation. An HBO Production.

This recent film is not specifically about the Black church, it’s true. However, in his original letter, Ta-Nehisi Coates does frequently address the role of the church in individual lives and in Black culture. He is candid about his own departure from Christianity, and strives “to articulate a black politics without churchiness,” as Tressie McMillan Cottom writes for The Atlantic (“Between the World and Me Book Club: Not Trying to Get Into Heaven,” Aug 3, 2015).  Studying the history of the Black church also requires an openness to the voices of those who criticize or even leave it.


The Katie G. Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership invites you to sign up for its 2021 Spring Virtual Conference, “The Hinges Upon Which the Future Swings: Womanism as a Gateway to Our Future(s).” Apr 8-10, 2021.

From the conference description: “Through panels, presentations, interviews, lectures, and multifaceted, transgenerational, innovative conversations across disciplines, this conference is the culmination of the work of KGCCWL integrating its six-core tenets – womanist wellness, witness, wisdom, worship, wares, and works – which represent the holistic interconnections that make womanist leadership flourish.”

Learn more and register here.