I am currently working on The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League Ritual and Catechism.  New developments in the fields of anthropology since the publication of Randall K. Burkhett’s Garveyism as a Religious Movement (1978) has led to new directions within the filed of ritual studies. Foremost of these new directions flow from the work of British Anthropologist Talal Asad. Asad, for over two decades has been at the forefront of post-colonial studies and has been dedicated to the study of the contribution of western monasticism to our understanding of religious ritual.[1] The UNIA rituals that grew out of the shared experience of oppression were predicated on the foundation of the religious faith of black folk.[2]

Criticized by the NAACP as “silly rituals,” the theology of UNIA is probably the least studied and most misunderstood aspect of the African diasporic centered communal life of the UNIA. However, the ritual aspects of UNIA ceremonial life were arguably a motivating factor in driving membership. But were these rituals and mythology able to support and sustain the spiritual life of its membership? By understanding the role of ritual life and how ordinary rank and file UNIA members interpreted it we may begin to reveal more questions surrounding the sudden rise and decline of UNIA. My task is to re-examine the theological framework and the ways in which the ritual life was interpreted and understood by both UNIA-ACL members and their supporters and critics.






[1] See Nathan D. Mitchell, Liturgy and the Social Science, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 64.

[2] See Randall K. Burkett, Garveyism as a Religious Movement, (New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., and The American Theological Association, 1978), 8.


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