Review of Protest and Praise: Sacred Music of Black Religion

by Jon Michael Spencer
Book Reviewed
Book Title
Protest and Praise: Sacred Music of Black Religion
Book Author
Jon Michael Spencer
Book Publisher
Fortress Press
Place of Publication
Book Review Citation
Review Author
Robert Franklin
The Journal of Religion
Select License
September 6th, 2012

The Journal of Religion

himself in a role analogous to that of Toto in The Wizard of 0z. Like Dorothy's furry little friend, he has pulled back the curtain on the Wizard. He has exposed-or so he believes-Sioux medicine men as benevolent charlatans, dis- pensing anxiety reduction and psychic integration instead of hearts, brains, and trips back to Kansas.

Because of its central theoretical flaws, The Medicine Men fails to provide an acceptable analysis of Sioux religion and medicine. It would be wrong, however, to pass over some of the book's positive features. As a psychiatrist, Lewis is sensi- tive to psychological data often ignored by anthropologists of religion. In addi- tion, he provides a fascinating case history of mutism, linking it (courtesy of James H. Howard) to the Sioux legend of Standing Rock Woman. Most impor- tant. however. Lewis's work affords all students of non-Western religions the


opportunity to reflect critically on their own presuppositions. As such, it repre-
sents a significant contribution to the literature.

Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

SPENCER, Protest and Praise: Sacred Music of Black Religion. Minne-

apolis: Fortress Press, 1990. 262 pp.

In this study of the sacred music of black religion, Professor Spencer documents and analyzes the genesis and unfolding of one of America's rich traditions of reli- gious and musical expression. He characterizes his method as theomusicology, "which is musicology as a theologically informed discipline" (p. viii). He main- tains that the sacred music of African Americans is of two sorts: Drotest song and


praise song, hence the title. These categories constitute the book's two parts, and within each there are five chapters.

Starting with the spirituals, he summarizes and synthesizes what we have learned from other studies of them by W. E. B. Du Bois, John Lovell, and James Cone. Of particular importance here is his claim that the spirituals are arche- types of protest that imprinted subsequent song traditions such as the antislav- ery, social gospel, and civil rights hymnody. His exploration of the formation of, and religious vision behind, the antislavery hymnbooks of William Lloyd Garri- son and the "kingdom hymnbooks" of Walter Rauschenbusch is fascinating and is highlighted by his lively prose. These chapters remind us that white and black Christians labored to produce songs that sought to quicken America's conscience to the social as well as personal dimensions of redemption.

Spencer is one of the nation's leading figures seeking to explicate the implicit theology of popular music and culture. In a wonderfully insightful chapter titled "Bluesman Adam and Blueswoman Eve: A Theology of the Blues," he elaborates his claim that "early blues was a music of rebellion, a radical affront to the hypoc- risy of the church" (p. viii). Following the interpretations ofJames Cone and Rod Gruver, he demonstrates that the blues are "secular spirituals" that contain motifs such as the fall into sin, sensual indulgence, conversion, and the redemp- tion of the prodigal son.

Part 2 contains his strongest contributions to our appreciation of black sacred music. He explores the role of drums in African religion, of rhythm in black reli- gion, of the ring-shout in the religion of the slaves, noting that through rhythm, especially its improvisational, creative, and cathartic moments, black people experienced a foretaste of authentic human freedom. He sustains this emphasis in two subsequent chapters on singing in African-American Pentecostalism.

Book Reviews

There he reminds us that it was in this movement of spiritual renewal, led by the black apostle William J. Seymour in 1906, that the Africanity of slave religion was preserved despite the assimilative tendencies of middle-class black Chris- tians. Spencer concludes his study by focusing on the "anticultural" character of gospel music and the "musicality of black preaching." One only wishes that he had said more about jazz and its religious significance.

This is a fine study by an exceedingly knowledgeable scholar who, by his cre- ative conceptual framework and vivid prose, is making the sacred music of black religion accessible to a wider audience. ROBERT FRANKLIN,

Candler School of Theology.

SHARPE,ERICJ. Nathan Saderblom and the Study of Religion. Chapel Hill and Lon- don: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. xxiiif258 pp. $39.95.

In 1973 the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) initiated a History of Religions Project. Its participants took a straw vote to determine which scholars in their field, especially which pioneers, merited a biography. Tied with Rudolf Otto for first place was Nathan Soderblom. Here is his biography, written by University of Sydney professor Eric J. Sharpe.

Soderblom had the misfortune of writing chiefly in Swedish and of writing too much. Editors who might have contemplated a Collected Works grew fainthearted in the face of his huge corpus, and scholars who do not read Swedish or want to sort their way through his leavings are more aware of his greatness than of his distinctive contributions.

Sharpe, who revisited the Soderblom sites and lore after having been away from them for decades, was clearly beguiled by his subject though he is by no means uncritical. He found that the Swedish scholar and archbishop drew him with his themes and method so compellingly that Sharpe ended with a different book than he had intended: "This has been a book about the study of religion. But inevitably it has slipped into being also a book about religion itself. This was not altogether intentional, but having happened,. .." (p. 200).

Soderblom forces those who read him to confront not only the study, as many historians of religion do today, but religion itself, a phenomenon that some schol- ars doubt even exists outside the study, or outside the minds of people in studies who put names on things. Soderblom, in short, was a religious person and used the data of his own experience for his "scientific"-a cherished word early in this century when he was in his prime-pursuit of religion.

If Sharpe has described one unintentional element in his book, he has pursued an intentional one. He has better fulfilled the terms of those who wanted a biop-


raphy than he will meet the expectations of those who would like an astringent, close-up analysis of method in history of religion. Soderblom lived such a rich and full life in the company of the European inventors of their discipline that his story all but carries itself. Sharpe's narrative line is clean and clear. Somehow he conveys the sense of what Norwegian bishop Eivind Berggrav and an Oslo news- paper found in Soderblom: "The secret was primarily that the archbishop was a simple and happy man" (p. 207).

The idea of being a happy Swede may strike some as itself oxymoronic. But that Soderblom could keep his essential simplicity and happiness through the agonies of World War I, under the burdens of office, and while picking his way across the controversial terrain of a young discipline is impressive. There may

Set your country here to find out accurate prices

Seller Condition Item Price Shipping Total Cost
AlibrisGood Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Shipped to over one million happy customers. Your purchase benefits world literacy!US$ 3.46 US$ 3.50US$ 6.96
AlibrisFair A readable copy. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact. Pages can include considerable notes-in pen or highlighter-but the notes cannot obscure the text. At ThriftBooks, our motto is: Read More, Spend Less.US$ 3.98 US$ 3.50US$ 7.48
AlibrisFair A readable copy. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact. Pages can include considerable notes-in pen or highlighter-but the notes cannot obscure the text. At ThriftBooks, our motto is: Read More, Spend Less.US$ 3.98 US$ 3.50US$ 7.48
AlibrisUS$ 4.00 US$ 3.50US$ 7.50
AlibrisGood Ships same day or next business day! UPS shipping available (Priority Mail for AK/HI/APO/PO Boxes). Used sticker and some writing and/or highlighting. Used books may not include working access code or dust jacket.US$ 8.70 US$ 3.50US$ 12.20
AlibrisFair Buy with confidence. Excellent Customer Service & Return policy. Ships Fast. 24*7 Customer Service.US$ 12.99 US$ 3.50US$ 16.49
AlibrisLike New 8vo; yellow covers with image of crowd protesting on front; very light shelfwear/edgewear; else New condition without shrink-wrap. NO previous owner markings. Pages crisp and white. Binding square and straight. Spine uncreased. Pictures available upon request. Orders will be mailed either on the day ordered or the next business day. Expedited shipping available.US$ 13.99 US$ 3.50US$ 17.49
AlibrisNever been read. Size: Octavo (20-25 cm); Tight binding. No spine creases. Clean copy, no interior marks. Minor cover & edge wear. Previous owner's inscription on inside cover. 262 pp. Item ships within two business days.US$ 17.28 US$ 3.50US$ 20.78
AlibrisNew. Clean, unread copy in new condition. No marking or writing in the text. Covers are clean and show no wear.US$ 18.00 US$ 3.50US$ 21.50
AlibrisNew Buy with confidence. Excellent Customer Service & Return policy. Ships Fast. 24*7 Customer Service.US$ 19.01 US$ 3.50US$ 22.51
AlibrisNew. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 276 p. Contains: Illustrations, black & white.US$ 21.78 US$ 3.50US$ 25.28
AlibrisUS$ 23.19 US$ 3.50US$ 26.69
  • Recommend Us