Sunday, November 30, 2014

W. E. B. Du Bois on Religion (7): "Divine Discontent"

Kahn, Jonathon S.  Divine discontent: The Religious Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Introduction : Divine discontent as religious faith -- What is pragmatic religious naturalism, and what does it have to do with Du Bois? -- Pragmatic religious naturalism and the binding of The souls of Black folk -- "Love for these people" : racial piety as religious devotion -- Rewriting the American jeremiad : on pluralism, Black nationalism, and a new America -- "Behold the sign of salvation-a noosed rope" : the promise and perils of Du Bois's economies of sacrifice -- Conclusion : Beyond Du Bois : toward a tradition of African American pragmatic religious naturalism.
W. E. B. Du Bois is an improbable candidate for a project in religion. His skepticism of and, even, hostility toward religion is readily established and canonically accepted. Indeed, he spent his career rejecting normative religious commitments to institutions and supernatural beliefs. In this book, Jonathon Kahn offers a fresh and controversial reading of Du Bois that seeks to overturn this view. Kahn contends that the standard treatment of Du Bois turns a deaf ear to his writings. For if we're open to their religious timbre, those writings-from his epoch-making The Souls of Black Folk to his unstudied series of parables that depict the lynching of an African American Christ-reveal a virtual obsession with religion. Du Bois's moral, literary, and political imagination is inhabited by religious rhetoric, concepts and stories. Divine Discontent recovers and introduces readers to the remarkably complex and varied religious world in Du Bois's writings. It's a world of sermons, of religious virtues such as sacrifice and piety, of jeremiads that fight for a black American nation within the larger nation. Unlike other African American religious voices at the time, however, Du Bois's religious orientation is distinctly heterodox-it exists outside the bounds of institutional Christianity. Kahn shows how Du Bois self-consciously marshals religious rhetoric, concepts, typologies, narratives, virtues, and moods in order to challenge traditional Christian worldview in which events function to confirm a divine order. Du Bois's antimetaphysical religious voice, he argues, places him firmly in the American tradition of pragmatic religious naturalism typified by William James. This innovative reading of Du Bois should appeal to scholars of American religion, intellectual history, African American Studies, and philosophy of religion. 
 This is shameless intellectual charlatanism of the worst sort, part of the reactionary turn to religion to which intellectuals have caved or opportunistically joined. In our decaying "postmodern" age, anything goes.

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