An Ethic of Self-Surrender: An interpretation of the tradition of protest inherent to Black Pentecostal practices

“COGIC congregants once offered the testimony, "I looked at my hands and they looked new. I looked at my feet and they did too," not as otherworldly hope, but as testament to the political power of their worship. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Austin Washington Boston University Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

In the social practices of people made opaque by scholarly analysis there exists an archival record rich with meaning. Black American Pentecostal forms of worship are an example of the social practices often overlooked as forms of knowing. Despite the seemingly negligible nature of these practices, their wisdom continues to inspire social and political change within the U.S. American landscape.

This project distills a Black American Pentecostal social ethic of perpetual reinterpretation of what "human" means as a sociopolitical concept. Utilizing Theodore Schatzki's social practice theory, the project analyzes the COGIC rituals of preaching, music-making, tarrying, and ecstasy to derive their practical significance. Employing Saidiya Hartman's strategy of reading history "against the grain," the research challenges narratives that identify Black Pentecostalism as "otherworldly," or unconcerned with the dehumanizing conditions of daily life. Following the example of social ethicist Nimi Wariboko, the project analyzes the above mentioned ritual practices to demonstrate how COGIC congregants contest white supremacist notions of "human" being as their mode of political protest. Through the worship event, congregants oppose and participate in the reinterpretation of the dominant majority's idea of "human" and who qualifies. Through the repeated performance of their ritual practices, congregants perpetually take on new ontological identities within the moral universe of the white dominant majority. Constantly remaking themselves through the worship event, COGIC congregants expose the contingency of the world of existence and the creatures who inhabit it. By accepting contingency as the truth of existence and constantly remaking themselves, black people can always create habitable space in a hostile world.

The project proves Black Pentecostalism to have a political dimension that was previously believed to be absent.