African American Atheists and Political Liberation
A Study of the Sociocultural Dynamics of Faith

Michael Lackey

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"A tremendous contribution to black studies and atheist philosophy."--Norm R. Allen, Jr., editor of African-American Humanism: An Anthology and The Black Humanist Experience

"Persuasively isolates and describes a philosophical tradition of 'black liberation atheism' that emerges, gaining coherence and momentum, in the twentieth century. Lackey's description and analysis of black liberationist atheism will startle scholars into reconsidering the religious politics of familiar authors and intellectual figures like Richard Wright, Nella Larsen, and Langston Hughes."--Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt University

This study of atheist African American writers poses a substantive challenge to those who see atheism in despairing and nihilistic terms. Lackey argues that while most white atheists mourn the loss of faith, many black atheists--believing the "God-concept" spawns racism and oppression--consider the death of God a cause for personal and political hope.

Focusing on a little-discussed aspect of African American literature, this full-length analysis of African American atheists' treatment of God fills a huge gap in studies that consistently ignore their contributions. Examining how a belief in God and His "chosen people" necessitates a politics of superiority and inferiority, Lackey implicitly considers the degree to which religious faith is responsible for justifying oppression, even acts of physical and psychological violence.

In their secular vision of social and political justice, black atheists argue that only when the culture adopts and internalizes a truly atheist politics--one based on pluralism, tolerance, and freedom--will radical democracy be achieved. Of primary interest to scholars of African American studies, this volume also will appeal to religious scholars, philosophers, anthropologists, freethinkers, and religious and secular humanists.

A recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, Michael Lackey is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He is also the author of The Modernist God State: A Literary Study of the Nazis' Christian Reich.

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Choice Outstanding Academic Title - 2008

"Takes issue with both religious and humanists who hold these views. While he maintains that most white atheists mourn the death of God, he argues that most African-American atheists find in it a source of liberation and optimism for a bright political future."
--Free Inquiry: The Magazine of Secular Humanism

"An original and provocative approach to a genuinely neglected aspect of 20th-century African American literature, this well-written, accessible book turns the tables on conventional accounts of African American religious beliefs. . . . Essential."
Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"An important contribution to the field of religious studies, and is required reading for students and scholars of African-American religion."
--Religious Studies Review

"Open[s] up a new generic space, and give[s] us a sense of the potential Lackey's theories hold for future scholarship on African-American literature."
--Religion and the Arts

"Well worth reading."
--Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research

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