Graduate Theological Union

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The Moan and the Shout: James Noel on African American Religious Experience

Take a black sermon, print it in a book, then read it, and you have no idea what it means because it has been abstracted from the living worship of the black church, says the Rev. Dr. James Noel, (Ph.D. ’99), Farlough Professor of African American Christianity at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The sermon’s meaning, he says, is determined by the hymns sung, the testimonials, the prayers said before and after the sermon’s delivery, as well as what went on that week for parishioners. “My fascination is with religious experience and its various modes of expression,” he says, “especially African American religious experience, which is different than that of Europeans or white Americans. The disciplines generated by both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment aren’t adequate for elucidating black religion, and this has implications for theological education.”

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