African American Humanism

This week we turn our attention to the annual “Lincoln Lecture” on Humanism for 2006. I’m particularly excited about it, because the topic is dear to my heart and this year’s lecturer is one of the Humanist scholars & thinkers I personally admire most, anywhere in the world today. Here is the official announcement:

African American Culture and Religion: Do They Always Go Hand in Hand?
The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University (with the Harvard Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research) proudly presents the 13th Annual Alexander Lincoln Memorial Lecture:
Dr. Anthony Pinn
“Doing Humanism: reflections on the Nature and Practice of African American Humanism.”
Harvard Science Center Hall E
Free & Public
African Americans tend to be thought of as among the most “religious” groups in American society. But especially given recent debates on religion’s role in science, politics, terror, and more, the time may have come to ask: is there room for a Humanistic, agnostic or atheistic form of spirituality in African American life and culture? One of the nation’s leading young scholars of African American Religion, Dr. Anthony Pinn, passionately argues not only that African American Humanism can thrive today, but that it has been developing for well over a century. Pinn, a Harvard and Columbia-trained professor at Rice University, in his mid-forties, is the author/editor of seventeen books, on subjects such as African American religion and spirituality, hip hop, and African American Humanism; he is currently editing an Encyclopedia of African American Religious Culture.

Pinn points out that, since the time of slavery, American Blacks have been critiquing the Christian narrative that suffering is redemptive and should therefore be accepted and not struggled against. Many have even left behind belief in God altogether in favor of a focus on earthly reason and compassion. This Humanist alternative in African American spiritual life traces its roots to the religious questioning of thinkers such as Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Du Bois, the agnosticism of James Baldwin, the socialist-influenced irreligion of Huey Newton and Langston Hughes, and the full-fledged modern Humanism of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker (Walker was even the recipient of the prestigious American Humanist of the Year award in 1997).

Invited by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University (and co-sponsored by the Harvard Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research), Pinn will deliver the 13th Annual Alexander Lincoln Lecture, entitled, “Doing Humanism: reflections on the Nature and Practice of African American Humanism.” He will reflect on questions such as, what should African American Humanism “look like” on a practical level? And how can 21st-century African Americans look to provide meaningful concrete alternatives to the liturgy, community, ritual, and social identity of the Black Church and other traditionally religious groups?

The Lincoln Lectureship has been an informal ‘Harvard Humanist of the Year’ award, given in previous years to notable figures ranging from the great scientist E.O. Wilson, to Human Rights heroes Taslima Nasreen and General Romeo Dallaire.


  1. The Heart of Humanism » African American Humanism Flyer & Poem

    November 28, 2006 @ 7:20 pm


    […] This blog entry contains the flyer for our exciting event next monday, and a controversial poem by Langston Hughes. Please note the poem is not to be taken as a statement of the values of contemporary Humanism, but rather, as evidence that Hughes (along with many famous African American Intellectuals) engaged in a serious critique and ultimately a rejection of traditional religion, in favor of a more human-centered philosophy of life. For a detailed description of the upcoming event, see the entry below. […]

  2. Dorothy

    December 22, 2006 @ 2:09 am


    Please check out my blog – feel free to comment

  3. monica

    March 7, 2008 @ 6:40 pm


    I too am very interested in the development of African American Humanism and the impact that it could have when approaching complex socioeconomic and humanist issues. Do you know of any “active” organizations or networks that are devoted to topics associated with these topics. I would love to be a part of one of them being an avid freethinker myself. What are some of the issues that you think that we should specifically be focusing upon?

  4. stuart soto

    June 16, 2008 @ 3:32 pm


    Who is the greatest African American Humanist alive today? I asked myself this question and could not come up with an answer.

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