Spiritual Madness: Race, Psychiatry, and Black Religion

Art print titled Spirituals showing a group of African Americans

Tuesday, April 12, 2022
4:00-5:00 p.m. PT




The recording for this webinar is unavailable

Department of Global Humanities and Religions
Distinguished Speakers Series

Brought to you by:
Department of Global Humanities & Religions
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
WWU Alumni Association

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, white American psychiatrists declared that mental illness among African Americans in the South had reached alarming proportions and argued that, in a notable percentage of these cases, “religious excitement” was the key precipitating factor.

This talk explores late nineteenth and early twentieth-century psychiatric theories about race, religion, and the “normal mind” and shows how the emerging specialty of psychiatry drew on works from history of religions to make racialized claims about African Americans’ “traits of character, habit, and behavior.”

This history of the intersections of psychiatry and African American religions sheds light on how ideas about race, religion, and mental normalcy shaped African American experience in courts and mental hospitals and on the role the racialization of religion played more broadly in the history of medicine, legal history, and the history of disability.

This lecture is part of an annual distinguished speaker series in the Department of Global Humanities and Religions. The department emphasizes interdisciplinary humanities, cultural history, and the study of religion, ancient to modern, and around the globe, with attention to cross-cultural interaction.

We have moved to a new event system! We encourage you to create a new profile and login when you register for this and future events, however, you are not required to login to register. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at alumni@wwu.edu and we will help you update your information. Thank you for joining us, and we'll see you soon!

Professor Judith Weisenfeld

Professor Judith Weisenfeld


Judith Weisenfeld is an Agate Brown and George L. Collard Professor of Religion, and Chair of the Department of Religion, Princeton University. Her most recent book, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration, was awarded the 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.

Her current research examines the intersections of psychiatry, race, and African American religion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is also the Co-Director of The Crossroads Project: Black Religious Histories, Cultures, and Communities, which is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Questions and Accommodations

Maureen Christman is the coordinator for this event. Feel free to email GHR@wwu.edu or call (360) 650-3030 if you have any questions or comments.

There will be auto-captions available for this event.

Image Credit

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library.

"Spirituals" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1935 - 1943. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8090a370-d56d-0131-3798-58d385a7bbd0