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Walter F. Pitts Jr.

Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora

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This major new study of the African origins of African-American forms of worship is based on extensive fieldwork in black Baptist churches in rural Texas. Pitts, a scholar of anthropology and linguistics and a church pianist, played at and recorded numerous worship services over a period of five years. Through historical comparisons and linguistic analysis of this material, Pitts uncovers striking parallels between "Afro-Baptist" services and the religious rituals of Western and Central Africa, as well as other African-derived rituals in the United States Sea Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Raising the concept of ritual frame, he reveals the binary structure underlying African and African-American worship: the somber melancholy of the first frame and the high emotion of the second frame are both essential to the fulfillment of that structure. In the process, Pitts creates a memorable portrait of this vital yet misunderstood aspect of African-American culture. With a Foreword by Vincent Wimbush.