This essay tracks the evolving tensions between culture and politics in African American life to offer an account of how an idea of “church” shapes contemporary black literature and social activism. Although generally understood as a dramatic reimagining of the black past and as a break from the “Black Church,” specifically, black literature and protest politics in the present moment are not as far removed from the traditions of Afro-Protestantism as they are thought to be. Recognizing the degree to which racial and religious discourses are mutually constitutive, this essay calls attention to how blackness itself (under a variety of names) has circulated as a religious discourse—as a veritable conversation within and without, all around and about, the church.

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