Date of Award

Fall 2022

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Music, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Kevin Wolfe

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Robert Zappulla

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

David Luis-Brown

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2022 Elizabeth Adekale

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Christianity is an African traditional religion that played a vital role in the formation of American songs of slavery, also known as spirituals. These songs were created by the enslaved Africans in America to express their longing for freedom and preserve African Christian tradition. Within the lyrics of spirituals are coded messages that provided secret information to the enslaved African population. The text of many spirituals came directly from the Bible and speaks of the Spirit working in and through God’s people to set things right. Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) was an African Christian theologian and philosopher whose spiritual authority heavily influenced the development of Western Christianity. Augustine’s writings helped bring together both the Hebrew and Greek parts of the Bible, and his traditional African teaching and interpretation of Christianity are made manifest in spirituals. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that there is an urgent need for postcolonial readings of African Christian history, and by extension, early African Church fathers, like Augustine, and the spirituals. There is an absence of scholarship that examines the African Christian tradition present in spirituals. The body of literature on the religious tradition of spirituals either emphasizes the adoption of Christianity by enslaved Africans in America or focuses on aspects of African traditional religion with no connection to Christianity. The works of African Christian leaders in the early church uphold traditional African principles that speak to the African Christian heritage of spirituals. My study analyzes the text of spirituals in such a way that highlights the African Christian tradition within it.



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