Religion is, I believe, the most important site for human creativity, innovation, and agency. In the world of the sacred in any social context, one is able to find the widest variety of human constructions of meaning. Indeed, the true understanding of human diversity may be found in the study of religion and the processes through which people sustain and renew their religious organizations and their religious world views. It is important, I think, to apply these new insights to the study of the African-American religious experience. The Black church, or the collective experience of African-American Christians in the United States, is important for a number of reasons but most especially because it had been the basis for an ethnic identity and the context for mobilization for social change.

The discussion in this essay attempts to integrate several lines of inquiry related to this observation. It is based on a research project focused on the Sanctified Church. Initially fueled by an interest in the emergence of new African-American religious congregations and denominations at a critical juncture in America's racial-ethnic historical outline—in other words a problem focused on social change and community reorganization at the end of Reconstruction and during the rise of Jim Crow, that interest broadened into an examination of the way in which religion fostered cultural identity and community, especially among African Americans. The research occurred at a moment of unprecedented interaction among African Americans from diverse strands of the African-American religious experience as the "golden cohort" benefitting from the open doors created by the Civil Rights Movement entered colleges, changed churches, and provided the nucleus for the growth of African-American mega-churches and the rise of what Lincoln and Mamiya have called "Neo- Pentecostalism." Observations of key congregations and national meetings of the Sanctified Church underscored the dynamics of continuity across denominational boundaries in spite of the still-salient histories of conflict with Baptist and Methodist churches.


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