Hell without fires : slavery, Christianity, and the antebellum spiritual narrative


Hell without fires : slavery, Christianity, and the antebellum spiritual narrative

Yolanda Pierce ; foreword by Stephen W. Angell and Anthony B. Pinn

(The history of African-American religions)

University Press of Florida, c2005

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Includes bibliographical references and index



Hell Without Fires examines the spiritual and earthly results of conversion to Christianity for African-American antebellum writers. Using autobiographical narratives, the book shows how black writers transformed the earthly hell of slavery into a ""New Jerusalem,"" a place they could call home. Yolanda Pierce insists that for African Americans, accounts of spiritual conversion revealed ""personal transformations with farreaching community effects. A personal experience of an individual's relationship with God is transformed into the possibility of liberating an entire community."" The process of conversion could result in miraculous literacy, ""callings"" to preach, a renewed resistance to the slave condition, defiance of racist and sexist conventions, and communal uplift. These stories by five of the earliest antebellum spiritual writers - George White, John Jea, David Smith, Solomon Bayley, and Zilpha Elaw - create a new religious language that merges Christian scripture with distinct retellings of biblical stories, with enslaved people of African descent at their center. Showing the ways their language exploits the levels of meaning of words like master, slavery, sin, and flesh, Pierce argues that the narratives address the needs of those who attempted to transform a foreign god and religion into a personal and collective system of beliefs.

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