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Historically, churches have provided autonomous spaces for Black people to cultivate and reproduce community values. As the first Black institution, this “nation within a nation,” has been a site of self- and communal-help and healing. Here, community values, morals, and strategies for moving through a weary world have been formed and disseminated. Yet, for many—Black feminists and LGBTQ folks, in particular—conservative gender and sexual politics have made churches a source of pain and exclusion, not healing. It might be time, however, to reevaluate the organizing structures, conceptual approaches, and ritual practices of Black Pentecostal women.
This talk proposes rethinking conventional frames of “progressive” and “conservative” by paying particular attention to the radical impulses at the heart of holy women’s conceptualization and experiences of power and time. Within the world of Spirit, women privilege power “in” and “through” as opposed to power “over.” Within the church polity, to promote their concerns, women weave webs of horizontal power that cross-cut the vertical structures of male power. In ritual practices, women move in and out of “Bible time” according to the tempo of the Spirit. They become Mary at the cross. How might these strategic and metaphysical reorientations of power and time inform the perspectives and practices of Black progressives-radicals moving through a weary world?
Judith Casselberry is associate professor of Africana Studies at Bowdoin College, teaching courses on African American women’s religious lives, music and spirituality in popular culture, music and social movements, and issues in Black intellectual thought. Her interest in African American religious and cultural studies, with particular attention to gender, guides her research agenda. She is author of The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism, which employs feminist labor theories to examine the spiritual, material, social, and organizational work of women in a New York-based Pentecostal denomination (Duke University Press, 2017). She is co-editor with Elizabeth Pritchard of Spirit on the Move: Black Women and Pentecostalism in Africa and the Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2019). She is currently working on a biography of cultural icon Grace Jones titled Solving the Mystery of Grace Jones: It’s the Holy Ghost. Casselberry’s interest in links between lettered and performed scholarship comes from her career as an academic and performer. As a vocalist and guitarist, she currently performs internationally with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely.
Judith Casselberry, The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism (Duke University Press, 2017)