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Divine DiscontentThe Religious Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois$
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Jonathon S. Kahn

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195307894

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195307894.001.0001

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Rewriting the American Jeremiad

Rewriting the American Jeremiad

On Pluralism, Black Nationalism, and a New America

Chapter:
(p.87) 4 Rewriting the American Jeremiad
Source:
Divine Discontent
Author(s):

Jonathon S. Kahn (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195307894.003.0005

Sacvan Bercovitch's influential account of the American Jeremiad swallows the African American jeremiad whole. This chapter argues that Du Bois's African American jeremiads—in their conception of America without divine guarantee and riven with dissent, and of African Americans as a distinctly chosen people within America at large—represent a swerve from the Puritan form. First, Du Bois's jeremiads try to imagine a new type of America, a pluralistic democratic America that does not suppress dissent or its fraught history. Du Bois's jeremiads reject the idea of America's divine guarantee, as they reject a steadfast optimism and unshakeable faith in the American experience. The second critical way Du Bois's jeremiads disrupt Bercovitch's norm is in the way he uses them to establish and consolidate what Du Bois calls “A Negro Nation Within the Nation.” Du Bois does not mean by “nation” a separate political entity of African Americans, but a type of cultural, political, and social solidarity within America. For Du Bois, this emphasis on the integrity of black American culture represents a form of black nationalism that extends itself toward a larger pluralistic America.

Keywords:   African American jeremiad, American jeremiad, Sacvan Bercovitch, black nationalism, democracy pluralism, nationalism

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