Wallace Best

Professor
Department of Religion & Department of African American Studies
PhD, Religion
Northwestern University
office:
131 1879 Hall
office phone:
(609) 258-6940
email:
wbest@princeton.edu
Wallace Best

Wallace Best specializes in 19th and 20th century African American religious history. His research and teaching focus on the areas of African American religion, religion and literature, Pentecostalism, and Womanist theology. He has held fellowships at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.

Courses

AAS 256 / REL 256 (HA)
African American Religious History

This course will trace the origins and development of African American religion in the United States. It will begin with the important debate about “Africanisms” and an examination of “slave religion” in its various forms. We will also discuss urban religion and the rise of “The Black Gods of the Metropolis”. In addition to Christian and quasi-Christian groups, we will also explore the rise of non-Christian groups such as Black Hebrews and the Nation of Islam. The course concludes with an examination of the contested role of black churches during the Civil Rights Movement.

AAS 305 / REL 391/ MUS 354 / AMS 355 (LA)
The History of Black Gospel Music

This course will trace the history of black gospel music from its origins in the American South, to its modern origins in 1930s Chicago, and into the 1990s mainstream. Critically analyzing various compositions and the artists that performed them, we will explore the ways the music has reflected and reproached the extant cultural climate. We will be particularly concerned with the four major historical eras from which black gospel music developed: the slave era; Reconstruction; the Great Migration, and the era of Civil Rights.

AAS 318 / REL 318 / GSS 375 (LA)
Black Women and Spiritual Narrative

This course will analyze the narrative accounts of African American women since the nineteenth century.   Working from the hypothesis that religious metaphor and symbolism have figured prominently in black women’s writing (and writing about black women) across literary genres, we will explore the various ways black women have used their narratives not only to disclose the intimacies of their religious faith, but also to understand and to critique their social context. We will discuss the themes, institutions, and structures that have traditionally shaped black women’s experiences, as well as the theologies black women have developed in response.

AAS 332 / REL 332 (LA)
The Nation of Islam in America

This course will explore the various meanings attributed to Nation of Islam (NOI) cultural and religious practices. Of particular concern will be the ways in which the NOI¿s ideological structure has allowed it to function both as a “black nationalist” and religious body. Students will spend time examining the lives of such figures as Wallace D. Fard, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrahkan. Other themes covered include: women and the NOI, the return to Orthodoxy, the NOI and black Christianity, and the NOI and political power. Two lectures, one preceptorial.

AAS 365 / REL 362 / ENG 394 (LA)
Migration and the Literary Imagination

This course will explore the various meanings of The Great Migration and mobility found in 20th century African American literature. Through careful historical and literary analysis, we will examine the significant impact migration has had on African American writers and the ways it has framed their literary representations of modern black life.

AAS 368 / REL 368 / POL 424 (EM)
Topics in African American Religion: Black Religion and the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s is most often depicted as “the flowering of African American arts and literature.” It can also be characterized as a period when diverse forms of African American religious expressions, ideologies, and institutions emerged. This course will explore the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the writings of Langston Hughes, to understand the pivotal intersection of race and religion during this time of black “cultural production.”

AAS 382 / REL 372 (LA)
Race, Religion, and the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s is most often depicted as “the flowering of African American arts and literature.” It can also be characterized as a period when diverse forms of African American religious expressions, ideologies, and institutions emerged. This course will explore the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly writings of Langston Hughes, to understand the pivotal intersection of race and religion during this time of black “cultural production.”

AAS 506 / REL 514 / GSS 506
Sexuality and Religion in America

Sexuality has long been a contested and contentious issue within American religions, yet only recently have scholars and practitioners begun to forthrightly address it. This course will explore the emerging literature on sexuality and religion as a way to understand how approaches to sex and sexuality within “sacred spaces” have shaped private behavior and public opinion. We will give particular attention to American Evangelical and Catholic religious expressions for the way they have been especially influential in framing (and inhibiting) sexual discourse and practices in the US and throughout the world.

AAS 510 / REL 515
Race, Religion and the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance (HR) of the 1920s is most often depicted as “the flowering of African American arts and literature.” It can also be characterized as a period when diverse forms of African American religious expressions, ideologies, and institutions emerged. This course explores the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the writings of Langston Hughes, to understand the pivotal intersection of race and religion during this time of black “cultural production.”

REL 310 / AAS 310 (HA)
American Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religious movement in the world, spreading especially in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, having a major impact on the religious, social, and economic practices in those regions. This course looks into the religious and cultural sources of the movement from its birth in Los Angeles in 1906, focusing on such distinctive features as healing, expressive bodily worship, “speaking in tongues,” and its special appeal to people on the margins of society.