The Sonic Souls of Black Folk

Sacred Sound and Black Religion in America
Jun 2, 2023
Stanford University (Stanford Faculty Club, Redwood Room)
Public Event



Event Description

A hybrid symposium at Stanford University.

Throughout American history, the rich sound of black sacred expression has colored the American cultural landscape. Sacred sound has been a medium through which black communities have raised protest, advanced social movements, challenged ideologies, mourned injustices, and given praise. Various forms of black sonics—instrumental music, vocalized and chanted sermons, gospel choirs, percussive repetitions, poetry, and shouts of agony and exuberance—constitute black sacred sound. 

The Crossroads Project invites panelists to a conversation on the sacred sound of black religion. Through our collective reflection, we hope to explore how the category of “sacred sound” enables new understandings of black religion in America. Panelists and speakers are asked to consider what sets of data, resources, repositories, and methods of study are most useful for theorizing the category of black sacred sound. We also hope to uncover how the study of black aural traditions enables new ways of understanding relationships between gender, sexuality, performance, and religion. 

In many African American religions, the crossroads symbolizes the mystical barrier that separates the world of deities and ancestors from the material world of humanity. Utilizing the crossroad as a dialogical model for interdisciplinary exchange, The Sonic Souls of Black Folk symposium envisions a dialogical exchange that includes both contemporary and ancestral interlocutors. Our collective reflection aims not only to invoke previous generations of scholarly wisdom, but also casts new visions for the future of African American religious studies. 


9:30AM PT

Keynote Address
Maurice Wallace, Rutgers University

11:00AM - 12:30PM PT        

“Gospel, Gender, Sexuality, and Swing: Boundaries of Black Sacred Sound”

Alisha Lola Jones, Cambridge University
Vaughn A. Booker, Dartmouth College

2:00PM - 3:30PM PT

“Black Performers and Personalities: Sacred Dimensions of Personhood through Black Sound”

Ralph Craig, III, Stanford University
Ambre Dromgoole, Yale University
James H. Hill, Jr., University of Oklahoma