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IntroductionDepartureMiddle PassageArrivalAbolitionLegacy

Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas

Conversion to Christianity
Enduring Hardships
Religious Services
Preaching to Enslaved Africans
Slave Religion in Central and South America

Captive Passage
has been made
possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Humanities
Recognition of
additional sponsors
for this exhibition
can be found by
clicking on

Arrival: Life in the AmericasPreference for AfricansThe Slave Markets
European RewardsSlave Populations in the AmericasThe Ships Return to EuropeEconomics
Sugar IntroductionSlavery in North AmericaReligionSilver Mines of South America

Religion: African Worldview

West African cultures provided a way of looking at the world that was very different from the European way. Generally speaking, Western Christianity imposes a clear boundary between the physical and the spiritual. The body and the spirit are often seen as being at odds with each other. Things of God are opposed to things of this earth. This strict dualism is not present in African thought. African cultures have a more integrated worldview. Spirituality is a part of life as much as physicality. Therefore, African religion is more connected to everyday life than European religion is. People looked for religious answers to all types of problems and believed that their gods and the spirits of their ancestors played active roles in their day-to-day lives. African cultures often believed in ghosts, fetishes, and many other physical manifestations of spiritual forces. They recognized and celebrated the spiritual quality of all things, and therefore believed more in the goodness of all things. Hence there was more of an emphasis on human goodness than on evil and sin. This stands in contrast to Western thought, which defines good and evil as opposites, and defines certain things as explicitly good and others as explicitly evil.

When Africans converted to Christianity, this difference in worldview would shape the way they practiced their new religion. Traditional Christianity teaches that all of humanity is condemned because of the sin of Adam and Eve. It is only through Jesus Christ that humans can be saved. Enslaved Africans were often unwilling to accept this belief, instead concentrating on human goodness. When they looked at their surroundings, they saw that it was the white people who were sinful, and yet it was the innocent blacks who were in slavery. Therefore, they chose not to emphasize sin, but to celebrate the human soul, much as their old faiths had. Slave Christianity emphasized humanism instead of guilt, free will instead of predestination, and enjoying life over avoiding sin.