Fortress Press

The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse

The Spirituality of African Peoples

The Search for a Common Moral Discourse

Peter J. Paris (Author)


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Current interest in Afrocentricity is but one moment in the longstanding post-colonial search by African peoples, both on the continent and in the diaspora, for cultural beacons.

Preeminent black social ethicist Peter Paris here sharpens and focuses that quest on African "spirituality"—that is, the religious and moral values embodied in African experience and pervading traditional African religious worldviews. From extensive comparative research and personal travel, Paris shows how such values were retained and modified in the diaspora, most notably in African American religious and moral thought and its practice. Traditional understandings of God, ancestral spirits, tribal community, family belonging, reciprocity, personal destiny, and agency have not only survived great cultural upheavals but remarkably even been enriched and enlivened.

Paris's pan-African focus, careful scholarship, and eye for ultimate values in varying cultural milieus combine here to model comparative cultural analysis and to clarify the cultural foundations of black ethical life.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800628543
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 208
  • Publication Date November 1, 1994


"Dr. Paris returns in this book to an old question….of African survivals and continuities in African American religious life and culture, and brings to his reformation a fresh ethical sensitivity concerning the condition of black people in the contemporary age. His book is a valuable statement on the enduring traditions of Africa in the hostile setting of transplantation, suppression and discrimination and on their positive effects on black political and religious life. In this context "spirituality" partakes of the material and historical conditions of black people rather than being only a flaky, subjective retreat into utopia. I welcome this book."
— Lamin Sanneh, Yale Divinity School

"Through Paris' characteristic sharp scholarly eye, we are given work that combines a pan-African focus with an enduring quest for values and meanings. This search for a usable African past is a productive one that provides a wider context to explore how the spirituality of the generations of the African diaspora shaped and continue to shape a moral discourse of collective radical social change."
— Emilie M. Townes, Saint Paul School of Theology


"This is an enormously insightful book. It explains much that we observe in the 'double consciousness' of African-American Christianity and self-understanding. ... It is smoothly written and a delight to read. A very important book for African-Americans to find cultural rootedness, and for European-Americans to find healing for a huge rift in understanding."
Review and Expositor

Table of Contents


  1. Africa: Revolution in Understanding

    Moral Challenges to Scholarship
    African Challenges to Colonial Scholarship
    African American Challenges to Racist Scholarship
    African and African American Challenges to Social Ethics

  2. God: The Source and Ground of All Life

    African Understanding of God
    African American Theological Syncretism
    African and African American Moral Syncretism
    African and African American Survival Theologies

  3. Community: The Goal of the Moral Life

    African and African American Understandings of Ancestral Life
    African and African American Understandings of Leadership
    African and African American Understandings of Slavery
    African and African American Views of Pluralism and Unity

  4. Family: The Locus of Moral Development

    The African Family: Typical Features of Moral Significance
    The African American Family: Typical Features of Moral Significance

  5. Person: The Embodiment of Moral Virture

    The African View of Personhood
    African Views of Personal Destiny
    Conflicting Views of Liberty and Authority
    African American Views of Personhood

  6. Ethics: African and African American Social Ethics

    The African Factor in the African American Experience
    Virtue Theory
    Some African and African American Moral Virtues
    The Christian Factor in African and African American Social Ethics