Scholars Consider Influence of Peoples Temple on Black Religion in America

Three religious studies scholars are editing a volume of essays which examine the roles that African Americans played in the Peoples Temple family, the political and social activism of California in the 1970s, and the Jonestown community. Currently titled Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, the book brings together a number of different voices on this much-neglected topic, including historical, sociological, theological, and personal analyses.

The editors plan to include two essays written in 1980 by major African American scholars: C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya’s important work “Daddy Jones and Father Divine: The Cult as Political Religion;” and Archie Smith, Jr.’s “An Interpretation of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown: Implications for the Black Church.”

The book will also feature the results of current academic research into the impact of Peoples Temple in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the demographics of the Temple membership and of the Jonestown community, and Jim Jones’ sermons and his appropriation of Black religious rhetorical styles.

The editors are Dr. Anthony Pinn, author of Varieties of African American Religious Experience; Dr. Mary Sawyer, author of Black Ecumenism: Implementing the Demands of Justice; and Dr. Rebecca Moore, author and editor of five books on Peoples Temple, including A Sympathetic History of Jonestown. They are developing and soliciting additional essays for the work. Publication date has been tentatively set for the fall of 2003, the 25th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown.