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James Baldwin: then and now

Organization: Christianity & Literature
Categories: Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, African-American, 20th & 21st Century, Anthropology/Sociology, Cultural Studies, Film, TV, & Media, History, Philosophy, Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2023-04-01 Abstract Due: 2023-04-01

 “James Baldwin: then and now” 

CALL FOR PAPERS for Special Issue: Christianity & Literature 

Guest Editors: Jennifer McFarlane-Harris (Seattle Pacific University), Peter Kerry Powers (Messiah University) 

 James Baldwin’s presence in American culture and political history follows a trajectory that is perhaps unique in American letters, being the signature literary voice for two very different cultural moments: the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and then—after a period of relative quiet—being taken up again six decades later as a prophetic precursor and guiding spirit for the larger Black Lives Matter movement.  Baldwin’s continuing relevance for our discourse and disputation about race, nationhood, masculinity and sexuality is now all but taken for granted.  His voice helps us navigate the thicket of cultural politics as we seek a world that is more just and more free than the one in which we live. 

Baldwin’s work was never far from the language, thought, and practices of Black Christianity.  If, as some have said, Baldwin left the church, it is also true that the church never left Baldwin: its conceptions of love, truth-telling, confession, and mercy are never far from his epistemologies. Even Baldwin’s argument with Christianity is carried out through the identifiable rhythms, cadences, and rhetoric of what Josef Sorett calls “Afro-Protestantism.” Ultimately, Baldwin’s insistence on social justice and liberation is informed by a radical critique of structures of oppression and the workings of power, coupled with images of redemption such as “the welcome table.” As a religiously informed thinker and writer, Baldwin decries the violence of humanity while celebrating the sacredness of our human agency, bodies, and desires.

This special issue of Christianity & Literature calls for submissions that examine Baldwin’s life and work in light of his lifelong engagement (and argument) with the principles and practices of the Christianity he inherited. Essays that take up any of the following issues are encouraged:  
·       Baldwin and Christianity now—esp. changes in Baldwin’s reputation over the past few decades
·       Baldwin as cultural icon: figure and symbol 
·       Baldwin as public intellectual, activist, social historian, and cultural theorist
·       Genre criticism—Baldwin as essayist, novelist, playwright, etc.
·       Baldwin and antecedents—inquiry and imagination re: Black literary and theological traditions
·       Baldwin, sexuality (desires, acts, practices; histories, activism), constructions of gender, and religious experience or sacred traditions
·       Baldwin, Christian faith, and political action or accommodation 
·       Baldwin, Christianity, and African American secularism or atheism
·       Baldwin, Critical Race Theory and the social construction of race
·       Baldwin and past and present political conflicts over teaching American history (e.g., The 1619 Project, chattel slavery, national identity)
·       I Am Not Your Negro (2016 film, dir. Raoul Peck) 
·       Any other issue re: Baldwin and Christianity
Deadline:  Abstract (300-500 words) due to Peter Powers (ppowers@messiah.edu) by April 1, 2023.  Drafts of accepted essays (6000-9000 words) will be due August 1, 2023.

All essays should be formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition.

Inquiries:  Direct inquiries about the issue to either Peter Powers (ppowers@messiah.edu) or Jennifer McFarlane-Harris (mcfarlanehaj@spu.edu).

Journal Editorial Statement: Christianity & Literature is a scholarly journal devoted to the exploration of how literature engages Christian thought, experience, and practice. The journal presupposes no particular theological orientation but respects an orthodox understanding of Christianity as a historically defined religious faith. Contributions appropriate for submission should demonstrate a keen awareness of the author's own critical assumptions in addressing significant issues of literary history, interpretation, and theory. Christianity & Literature is the official publication of the Conference on Christianity & Literature (CCL).



Peter Kerry Powers