Black Orientalism: Representing Islam in American Popular Culture and African American Religion


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


History and American Studies


While there are extensive literatures on enslaved African Muslims and 20th-century American Black Muslim movements, this project explores new ground by documenting the prevalence of Orientalist representations of Muslims, Arabs, and Moors in 19th-century American popular culture in forms such as sheet music, circus performances, minstrelsy and magic. African Americans not only consumed these images, but they helped to create them. For some, Orientalist scholarship and performance informed their critique of white supremacy and directly led to Black Nationalist and Black Muslim movements. By establishing the link between performance, religion, and politics, this study shows their interrelation and contends that religious ideas can spread in carnivalesque spaces, without being inauthentic.