"Sacred Mission, Worldly Ambition is a provocative book. Through its persistent sleuthing and its careful and sensitively modulated scholarly gaze-ing it gives a people back to us, makes them come alive as complex, layered agents striving to make sense of their lives, struggling, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, to respond with integrity and effectiveness to the structures of the society and culture in which they found themselves, working hard to reshape and improve their local worlds. I recognize the people Oltman researched and wrote about. Scholarly gaze-ing of and reporting on Black peoples and their religious orientations rarely bring about this effect. An impressive and fascinating project."
—Vincent L. Wimbush, editor of African Americans and the Bible: Sacred Texts and Social Textures
The study’s use of local sources in Savannah, especially behind-the-scenes church records, provides a rare glimpse into church life and ritual, depicting scenes never before described. Blending history, ethnography, and Geertzian dramaturgy, it traces the evolution of black southern society from a communitarian, nationalist system of hierarchy, patriarchy, and interclass fellowship to an individualistic one that accompanied the appearance of a new black civil society.
Although not a study of the civil rights movement, Sacred Mission, Worldly Ambition advances a bold, revisionist interpretation of black religion at the eve of the movement. It shows that the institutional primacy of the churches had to give way to a more diversified secular sphere before an overtly politicized struggle for freedom could take place. The unambiguously political movement of the 1950s and 1960s that drew on black Christianity and radiated from many black churches was possible only when the churches came to exert less control over members’ quotidian lives.
Read more about segregation in Georgia at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
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