Participation Type

Paper

Presentation #1 Title

"Islamophobia in African American Revolutionary Theologizing and Antebellum Sermonizing"

Presentation #1 Abstract

This presentation proposes to situate an 1856 slave narrative (incorporating a fictional sermon) written by runaway slave, John Thompson (1812–1860), in the context of almost a century of anti-Islamic thought in African American theology. Thompson concluded his book with a chapter that modern scholarly commentators have identified as a lay or fictional sermon in the vein of Father Mapple's in Moby-Dick (1851). Thompson's narrative included a number of anti-Islamic comments following on Muslims he met while at sea on a New Bedford whaler. After retiring from whaling, he barbered in Fall River and wrote his life story after moving to Worcester. His life story merged antislavery with a workingmen's evangelical Christianity. He defined those in opposition to Islam and aristocratic politics. This was one sequel to an animus against Islam found in black-authored Protestant works of the late eighteenth century. His lay sermon seemed, in his mind, to express Christian insight that Muslims could not achieve. Both sermonizing and resisting slavery seemed to him to be activities that Islam could not foster. For this presentation, I rely on all scholarship on Thompson (1955, 2007, 2011) as well as on my earlier writings on abolitionism and Islamophobia (2003). My goal is not simply to present an argument but to hear from conference attendees about ways in the twenty-first century we can discuss the relationship between brighter parts of our past (resistance to the slave system) with the dimmer parts of our past (animus against Islam).

At-A-Glance Bios- Presenter #1

John Saillant is a professor at Western Michigan University offering classes in early American history, early American literature, and African American studies. Since the early 1990s, he has been publishing in African American history, religion, and literature.

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"Islamophobia in African American Revolutionary Theologizing and Antebellum Sermonizing"

Montréal, QC

This presentation proposes to situate an 1856 slave narrative (incorporating a fictional sermon) written by runaway slave, John Thompson (1812–1860), in the context of almost a century of anti-Islamic thought in African American theology. Thompson concluded his book with a chapter that modern scholarly commentators have identified as a lay or fictional sermon in the vein of Father Mapple's in Moby-Dick (1851). Thompson's narrative included a number of anti-Islamic comments following on Muslims he met while at sea on a New Bedford whaler. After retiring from whaling, he barbered in Fall River and wrote his life story after moving to Worcester. His life story merged antislavery with a workingmen's evangelical Christianity. He defined those in opposition to Islam and aristocratic politics. This was one sequel to an animus against Islam found in black-authored Protestant works of the late eighteenth century. His lay sermon seemed, in his mind, to express Christian insight that Muslims could not achieve. Both sermonizing and resisting slavery seemed to him to be activities that Islam could not foster. For this presentation, I rely on all scholarship on Thompson (1955, 2007, 2011) as well as on my earlier writings on abolitionism and Islamophobia (2003). My goal is not simply to present an argument but to hear from conference attendees about ways in the twenty-first century we can discuss the relationship between brighter parts of our past (resistance to the slave system) with the dimmer parts of our past (animus against Islam).