Sacraments of Memory

Catholicism and Slavery in Contemporary African American Literature

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Erin Michael Salius
  • Gainesville, FL: 
    University Press of Florida
    , May
     234 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Sacraments of Memory is the first book to focus on Catholic themes and imagery in African American literature. Erin Michael Salius discovers striking elements of the religion in neo-slave narratives written by Toni Morrison, Ernest Gaines, Leon Forrest, Phyllis Alesia Perry, Charles R. Johnson, and Edward P. Jones. 

Examining the emergence of this major literary genre amidst the Black Power and civil rights movements, Salius uncovers the presence of Catholic rituals and mysteries—including references to the Eucharist, Augustinian theology, spirit possession, and stigmata—alongside and in tension with these texts’ criticisms of the Church’s political and social policies. Her analyses include a nuanced reading of Beloved that interprets the novel in light of Toni Morrison’s affiliation with the religion. 
Salius argues that Morrison and the other novelists in this study draw on a Catholic counter-tradition in American literature that resists Enlightenment rationality. These authors use this tradition to challenge the historical realism of past slave autobiographies and the conventional story of American slavery. Ultimately, Salius contends that Catholicism enables these novelists to imagine and express radically different ways of remembering the past.  

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Erin Michael Salius is Associate Director of Summer Term at Boston University.


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