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Between Exodus and Egypt: Malcolm X, Islam, and the natural religion of the oppressed

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Malcolm X's life and career offers a window through which to analyze the interactions between race and religion in the post-slavery experience of African Americans. This essay traces the trajectory of Malcolm's two religious conversions, and his evolving sense that Christianity is the backbone of white supremacy and western imperialism, where Islam is the natural religion of the oppressed. This journey, I suggest, features the eclipse of the Exodus motif that has been so central to much black religiosity since slavery to make way for the centralization of the Egypt metaphor; thus identifications with Jews are displaced by associations with black and Muslim diasporas. However, exploration of this movement from Exodus to Egypt illuminates not a smooth transition but rather a complex and ongoing interaction between the two motifs, interactions that question the notion that any singular religious identity offers an authentic experience for oppressed peoples. I suggest that Malcolm X's negotiation between what emerge as the competing modalities of race, religion and nation offer an insight into those forces that shape expressions of black religion today.
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Keywords: Christianity; Islam; Malcolm X; race; religion; slavery

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Birmingham.

Publication date: 2008-10-16

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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