Old Ship of Zion
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Old Ship of Zion : The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora

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This book retraces the African origins of African-American forms of worship. During a five-year period in the field, Pitts played the piano at and recorded numerous worship services in black Baptist churches throughout rural Texas. His historical comparisons and linguistic analyses of this material uncover striking parallels between "Afro-Baptist" services and the religious rituals of Western and Central Africa, as well as other African-derived rituals in the United States Sea Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Pitts demonstrates that African and African-American worship share an underlying binary ritual frame: the somber melancholy of the first frame and the high emotion of the second frame. Pitts's revealing perspective on this often misunderstood aspect of African-American religion provides an investigative model for the study of diaspora cultural practices and the residual influence of their African sources.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 216 pages
  • 129.5 x 210.8 x 15.2mm | 294.84g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0195111451
  • 9780195111453

Review quote

"Pitts' major contribution to the field of African-American religion is his ability to give the reader a clearer understanding of the Afro-Baptist rituals."-Journal of American Ethnic History "A fascinating and well-written book....Gives great insight into the religious life of Blacks in the South....An excellent example of how to study non-liturgical churches from a human sciences perspective."-Expository Times "Undoubtedly, this is the best book in print on African American worship....It should be required reading....I am confident that all students of African American religion will be greatly indebted to Professor Pitts."-Theology Today "A marvelous groundbreaking study....A delight to read...Highly recommended for...students and scholars of religious studies, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, and African American studies."-Choiceshow more

Back cover copy

"'I love the Lord, He heard my cry, ' Deacon cries out as the newly gathered congregation, now seated in their pews, echoes his words in a plaintive tune". Thus begins the Devotional at St. John Progressive Baptist Church, one of many Afro-Baptist services that Walter Pitts observed in the dual role of anthropologist and church pianist. Based on extensive fieldwork in black Baptist churches in rural Texas, this is a major new study of the African origins of African-American forms of worship. Over a period of five years, Pitts, a scholar of anthropology and linguistics, played the piano at and recorded numerous worship services. Offering an extensive history of Afro-Baptist religion in the American South, he compares the ritual structures he observed with those of traditional African worship and other religious rituals of African origin in the New World. Through these historical comparisons, coupled with sociolinguistic analysis, Pitts uncovers striking parallels between Afro-Baptist services and the rituals of Western and Central Africa, as well as African-derived rituals in the United States Sea Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Pitts demonstrates that African and African-American worship share an underlying binary structure: the somber melancholy of the first ritual frame and the joyful, ecstatic trance of the second frame, both essential to the fulfillment of that structure. Of particular interest is his discovery of the way in which the deliberate heightening and strategic suppression of "black English" contribute to this binary structure of worship. This highly original study, with a foreword by Vincent Wimbush, creates a memorable portrait of this vital, yet misunderstood aspectof African-American culture. A model for the investigation of African retentions in the diaspora, Old Ship of Zion will be of keen interest to students and scholars of cultural anthropology, religious studies, and African-American studies, as well as those concerned with the culture of the diaspora, the investigation of syncretism, folklore, and ethnomusicology.show more

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