Sunday, April 05, 2009

Race and Faith: Connections or Collisions?

As a Baha'i who is African American and a social scientist of religion, I've long been intrigued by the ways in which race and faith can sometimes connect and sometimes collide. There is a fascinating piece in the New York Times today about a Black Jewish Rabbi (yes they exist) from Chicago that provides some thought provoking examples of these connections and collisions. Its a long piece but a must read:

"Rabbi Capers Funnye celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year in New York City at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a mainstream Reform congregation, in the company of about 700 fellow Jews — many of them black. The organizers of the event had reached out to four of New York’s Black Jewish synagogues in the hope of promoting Jewish diversity, and they weren’t disappointed. African-American Jews, largely from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, many of whom had never been in a predominantly white synagogue, made up about a quarter of the audience. Most of the visiting women wore traditional African garb; the men stood out because, though it was a secular occasion, most kept their heads covered. But even with your eyes closed you could tell who was who: the black Jews and the white Jews clapped to the music on different beats." (Read the whole thing here)

It is my humble opinion that one of the best kept secrets in Black American Religion are Baha'is of African descent. African Americans have been an active and significant part of the Baha'i Faith since its earliest days in America, but this history is generally unknown. Happily books such as Lights of Spirit are telling our story.


  1. Anonymous3:49 PM

    I remember my initial surprise, when attending a talk by Rabbi Julian Noyberger (I am not sure if my spelling is correct) in the UK. I expected an orthodox jewish man, for some reason. This Rabbi was a woman, with blonde hair and a very good speaker.

  2. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Forgot to sign above post - Pauline

  3. I was yesterday on a tour around DC, following the places visited by Abdu'l-Baha in April of 1912. It was eye-opening to me, as a Baha'i from European descent (I was born in Bulgaria) about the profound role the African-American Baha'is played for the growth of the Faith and for the improvement of society! These stories deserve to be known, told, and retold! Thanks for keeping the torch alight!

  4. Dear Phillipe, there is a nice piece by Richard Thomas “The Pupil of the Eye:” African Americans and the Making of the American Baha’i Community, 1898-2003--Richard W. Thomas in THE BLACK URBAN COMMUNITY From Dusk Till Dawn