Publication details [#9102]

Ramey, Lauri. 2002. The theology of the lyric tradition in African American spirituals. Pragmatics and Literature 70 (2) : 347–363. 17 pp.


Typically, spirituals have been viewed as religious folksongs, whose literary complexity and theological importance have been appreciated insufficiently, especially as these relate to one another. Spirituals are not generally categorized as lyric poetry in spite of the fact that poetry has historically been used for theological purposes. Their cultural and artistic worth is appreciated most fully by demonstrating the close integration of their literary and theological significance. By using the tools of cognitive science, cultural studies, religious studies, and literary theory, the spirituals are shown to achieve a high level of conceptual freedom and spiritual self-determination as a liberating response to the linguistic, physical, religious, intellectual, and social constraints of the slave poets' lives. By focusing in depth as an example on the metaphorical structure of the spiritual 'Oh Mary, Don't You Weep, Don't You Moan', it becomes clear that the spirituals should be classified as a type of sacred lyric poetry that was instrumental in developing and revealing the formation of African American Christianity. (Lauri Ramey)