Lecture Explores Religious Beliefs Brought by Slaves to New World

February 19, 2018 at 10:40 am

Among the millions of Africans brought to the New World as slaves were hundreds of thousands of Muslims who managed to keep their faith and religious beliefs, according to Dr. Sylviane Diouf, whose lecture “African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will take place Tuesday,  Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the USC Upstate Sansbury Campus Life Center and is part of the University’s celebration of Black History Month.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Diouf, an accomplished author and prolific historian of the African diaspora, is the director emerita of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Her lecture will explore the experiences of enslaved African Muslims in North, Central and South America from the Colonial Era through the American Civil War, with a focus on their lives and faith.

“The brutality of slavery in the Americas destroyed not only lives and families, it erased or transformed cultural and religious life as well,” explained Dr. David Damrel, an associate professor of religion at USC Upstate. “The experiences of the enslaved Muslims who were brought to the New World from West Africa are part of this tragedy, but they also include stories of survival, of resistance, hope, and sometimes even transcendence.”

Damrel said that despite many slaves having Christianity forced upon them, not all Muslim slave communities abandoned their religious beliefs.

“We are finding more and more evidence that Muslim religious ideas, attitudes, and values survived, and there is even Islamic religious literature produced here in the New World,” he said.

While Diouf’s lecture will focus on stories of Islamic slave communities across South, Central and North America, Damrel also highlights the lecture’s relevance to contemporary America.

“Today, the U.S. is the most religiously diverse society in the world, and many people assume that diversity is a recent phenomenon,” Damrel said. “But this lecture shows that when we start to explore the American past with fresh eyes we can see that diverse religious communities have long been an important part of who we are.”

Diouf has written extensively on the African diaspora. Some of more recent works include: “Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons” (2014, New York University Press); “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” (15th anniversary edition 2013, New York University Press) and “Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America” (2007, Oxford University Press).

Sponsors for the lecture include the USC Upstate Department of Languages, Literature and Composition; USC Upstate’s Religion Program; and both, the USC Upstate Office of Student Affairs and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. The Sansbury Campus Life Center is located at 180 Gramling Drive, Spartanburg, SC 29303 on the campus of USC Upstate.