Document Type

Research Paper






"The spiritual is one of the most significant windows into the religious experiences of Black Americans. This paper will analyze the theological content of the spiritual, and 19th/20thcentury Black religious practice more broadly, alongside that of contemporary white Protestant hymnody. Fundamentally, the African American Christian experience is based around the promise of liberation from oppression by the Messiah; it seeks justice for the downtrodden and a Kingdom of God based on equity.

I posit that, through a comparative analysis of selected Black spirituals and contemporaneous white hymnody, the spiritual’s theological content will be more focused on liberation as expressed through the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures, and personal relationships with Jesus; while white Protestant hymnody will focus more on various abstract concepts of Christianity, such as the atonement (Jesus’ dying on the cross for the sins of the world). Furthermore, this paper will also analyze the structural elements of several hymns from each tradition in order to demonstrate that the spiritual would be easily learned by enslaved persons who were illiterate as opposed to the strophic form of most 19th-century European and American hymns."