Unveiling Christian Motifs in Selected Writers of Harlem Renaissance Literature
Joycelyn Laverne Collins
Thesis DT 3.5 2007 C655
viii, 125 leaves; 29 cm
Prior to the early 1900’s, much of the artistic expression of African American writers and artists was strongly steeped in a Christian tradition. With the Harlem Renaissance (roughly 1917-1934), the paradigm shifted to some degree.
An examination of several books and articles written during and about the Harlem Renaissance revealed that very few emphasized religion as a major theme of influence on Renaissance artists. This would suggest that African American intelligentsia in the first three decades of the twentieth century were free of the strong ties to church and Christianity that had been a lifeline to so many for so lang. However, this writer suggests that, as part of an African American community deeply rooted in Christianity, writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance period must have had some roots in and expression of that same experience.
The major focus of this research, therefore, is to discover and document the extent to which Christianity influences the Harlem Renaissance.
The research is intended to answer the following questions concerning the relationship to Christianity to the Harlem Renaissance:
1. What was the historical and religious context of the Harlem Renaissance?
2. To what extent did Christianity influence the writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance?
3. Did the tone of their artistry change greatly from the previous century? If so, what were the catalysts?
4. Three notable pre-twentieth – century African Americans writers apparently had been able to come to terms with Christianity. Were the Renaissance artists able to do it? Why or why not?
5. What made their views different?
6. What personal experiences did the Renaissance artists have with Christianity?
7. How was this Christian influence manifested in the literature?
Methods used to accomplish this discovery will include library research covering historical studies of Christianity and literature in the African American community from the 1700s into the 1930s, biographical research of the Harlem Renaissance artists, and an analysis of selected works, concentrating on the poetry.
The study will include a look at Christianity in the African American community at large, as well as other factors. Intellectual and literary pursuits during the early decades of the twentieth century were paralleled by growth and diversity in the African American church. It is the consciousness that gave impetus to both these movements that this writer will explore. This portion of the paper will address the views of important early twentieth century figures as well as factors that influenced the urban religious landscape.
The next portion of the paper will highlight the individual Christian background and experiences of some of the artists with whose works the Renaissance is most closely identified. This study will address the artists’ own perspectives, as told in their autobiographies and biographies.
This study will include an overview of the works of select writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and provide an analysis of works relevant to this thesis. The discussion will focus on the underlying expression of certain themes derived from Christian Scriptures, including the following:
God’s relation to humans- Jesus as Savior, deliver, judge, sources of hope
Theme of equality (one God, one blood, one Spirit; no respect of persons)
Celebration of African beauty/self as created by God and made in His image
Christianity interwoven in the fabric of everyday life
This portion of the paper will address the works of some artist who, rather than embrace Christianity, may have used it in their works as a point of departure, highlighting its challenges as shortcomings.