Sylvester Johnson Associate Professor of African American Studies and Religious Studies

Founding Co-Editor, Journal of Africana Religions
This is the first peer-reviewed journal to publish research on the global religious traditions among African and African-descended peoples.

Research Interests:

African American religious history
Race, Religion and COINTELPRO
Religion and colonialism in the Black Atlantic
Religion, Democracy, and American empire
American religion and sexuality
Religion and American politics


AFAM 380 Religion, Race, and Ethnicity
AFAM 480 Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and American Empire
Religion in the Black Atlantic
Freedom, Colonialism, and Democracy in the Black World
Religion and Empire in the Americas
Religion and Sex in America
American Religion and Politics


Ph.D. Union Theological Seminary 2002

Current Research:

I am currently writing a history of colonialism and African American religions. This book project examines the complicated relationship between black religions and colonialism as a historic and on-going American phenomenon both within and beyond US borders. My research for this book draws on archival and theoretical sources about black religions within the context of repressive American governmentality from the surveillance and suppression of African religions under white settler colonialism to the explicitly murderous Counter-Intelligence Program of the Department of Justice in the twentieth century, which targeted African American religions that opposed white racist rule. I draw on the data about African American religions to inform an elaborate argument about the nature of freedom and democracy in their historical manifestation as pillars of an American empire. Because these religions emerged under the sign of freedom, they offer especially valuable insight into the linkages between brutality and the democratic freedom so integral to the modern American nation-state.

Recent Publications:

African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy and Freedom. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004


"The Rise of Black Ethnics: African American Religions and the Ethnic Turn, 1916-1945" Religion and American Culture 20 (summer 2010): 125-163

"The Bible, Slavery, and the Problem of Authority," in Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies. Edited by Bernadette Brooten. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

"The Black Church," in The Companion to Religion in America. Edited by Philip Goff. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

"Colonialism, Biblical World-Making, and Temporalities in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative," Church History 77 (2008): 1003-1024

"Religion Proper and Proper Religion : Arthur Fauset and the Study of African American Religions," in The New Black Gods : Arthur Huff Fauset and the study of African American Religions. Edited by Edward Curtis IV and Danielle Sigler. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

"Tribalism and Religion in the Work of Richard Wright," Literature and Theology 20, no. 2 (2006): 171–188.

"New Israel, New Canaan: The Bible, the People of God, and the American Holocaust," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 59, nos. 1-2 (2005): 25-39.