Sylvester Johnson Associate Professor of African American Studies and Religious Studies, Department of African American and Department of Religious Studies

I research the intersection of religion, race, and colonialism in the Americas and throughout Atlantic geographies (Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas) over the past five centuries. My analysis of this material foregrounds the architecture of racial states and settler colonialism; the colonial formation of what scholars tend to name “modernity,” and the increasing role that the national security paradigm has played in shaping the relationship between religion and the state. My first book, Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity, focuses on the problem of religious hatred as a particular formation of anti-Blackness during a pivotal era of African American Christianization.

My second book, African American Religions, 1500–2000, provides a narrative and theoretical account of religion and racial formation to explain the linkage of Atlantic empires and democratic freedom. I began that project in an attempt to move beyond limiting the account of Black religion to the problem of slavery or to conceptions of race that are divorced from a theoretical appreciation for the historical reality of colonialism, particularly as a phenomenon of the United States.

I am currently finishing a book on religion and the FBI, a digital scholarly edition of Samuel Purchas’s Purchas His Pilgrimage (1626), and a multi-nodal research project on the development of intelligent machines and the conceptual challenges that this poses to humanities research as well as the existential challenges to the human species.

My graduate and undergraduate courses examine the relationship of religion and politics with particular attention to sexuality & gender, race & colonialism, and the corresponding genealogies of freedom and modernity. I also co-edit the Journal of Africana Religions, which is devoted to publishing transnational, interdisciplinary research on religion within Africa and throughout the global Black diaspora.

Selected Works

African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy and Freedom. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004


“Colonialism, Biblical World-Making, and Temporalities in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative,” Church History 77 (2008): 1003-1024

“Religion Proper and Proper Religion: Arthur Fauset and the Study of African American Religions,” in The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the study of African American Religions, ed. Edward Curtis IV and Danielle Sigler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009)

"Tribalism and Religion in the Work of Richard Wright,” Literature and Theology 20, no. 2 (2006): 171–188.

"New Israel, New Canaan: The Bible, the People of God, and the American Holocaust,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 59, nos. 1-2 (2005): 25-39.