Every Time I Feel the Spirit

Religious Experience and Ritual in an African American Church

222 pages

December, 2004

ISBN: 9780814758205

$26

Paper

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Author

Timothy J. Nelson is senior lecturer in sociology and assistant research professor in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

All books by Timothy Nelson

Dreams and visions, prophetic words from God about "dusty souls," speaking in tongues while "in the spirit"—narratives of these and similar events comprise the heart of Every Time I Feel the Spirit. This in-depth study of a Black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina provides a window into the tremendously important yet still largely overlooked world of African American religion as the faith is lived by ordinary believers.

For decades, scholars have been preoccupied with the relation between Black Christianity, civil rights, and social activism. Every Time I Feel the Spirit is about black religion as religion. It focuses on the everyday experience of religion in the church, congregants' relationships with God, and the role that God and Satan play in congregants' lives—not only as objects of belief but as actual agents. It explores the concepts of religious experience and religious ritual, while emphasizing the attributions that people make to the operation of spiritual forces and beings in their lives.

Through interviews and field work, Nelson uncovers what religious people themselves see as important about their faith while extending and refining sociological understandings of religious ritual and religious experience.

Reviews

  • ” Nelson has given us a wonderfully intimate glimpse into how rituals and belief animate the religious experiences of black-southerners. This is an important work that will challenge scholars of religion and race to rethink the nature of religious experience.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • "Nelson reveals the spiritual lives of black Southerners like few authors before him. In beautifully written and theoretically engaging prose, the ritual experience of low country worshippers emerges in rich and compelling detail. This book will surely deepen our understanding of power and authority in African American religious life."

    —Marla Frederick, author of Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith

  • "A very welcome book, not just for what we learn about one African American congregation, but for its reminder of what it means to see the world with religious eyes. Nelson's guided tour of a Charleston, South Carolina, pentecostal AME church is both enlightening and elegantly written. This book will shift the terms of debate about the role of ritual and experience in American religious life."

    —Jim Spickard, University of Redlands