Crossing the Color Line: Teaching Burdens of Religious Difference from Africa to Appalachia

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Doster, Meredith
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This paper charts the pedagogies and methodologies of “Crossing the Color Line: African and Appalachian Religious Others in the American Imagination”, a course I developed and team-taught with Africana religion scholar Dr. Dianne Stewart at Emory University in 2015. Interrogating and crossing the color lines that W.E.B. Du Bois named as a salient problem of the twentieth century, our students assessed Africa and Appalachia, and their corresponding peoples, places, and cultures, along a continuum of perceived difference in North America. Drawing on Curtis Evans’ landmark exploration of the “burdens” of black religion, we read the scholarly genealogies of African and Appalachian American religious identity formation together. By placing two marginalized peoples and narratives in conversation, we intentionally displaced the normative center of American religious history and explored new pathways to minoritized religious cultures. This paper positions the transdisciplinary methodology of “Crossing the Color Line” as both pedagogical intervention and discursive course correction. Tracing the construction and maintenance of difference across various geographical, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries, we illuminated the representational politics that inform (mis)perceptions of both Appalachian and African American religions. These shared burdens evince a common ground that expands our understanding of “Appalachian religion” beyond bounded notions of space, place, and culture and that calls for new methodologies to explore the relationship between region and religion.