Race & Religion in Early Virginia

From the Black Church to the Ku Klux Klan: how did American Christianity emerge as both the foundation of the African American community and a touchstone for white supremacists? This Endeavor course uncovers the tangled roots of Virginia’s troubled religious past. Through readings and class discussions, we will explore how Christianity fueled the emergence of slavery and simultaneously empowered enslaved African Americans. We’ll visit important religious sites in Richmond and central Virginia. We’ll recover eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century African American religious voices from historical archives. Above all, we’ll confront the hard history of religion, racism, and violence in pre-Civil War Virginia—a history that continues to haunt our world today.

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  • Coursework Overview

    The coursework for this Endeavor community involves taking a one-unit course in the fall semester and a half-unit course in the spring semester, both taught by Dr. Winiarski.

    Fall 2022 Semester Spring 2023 Semester
    AMST 298/RELG 210: Race and Religion in Early Virginia (1 unit) IDST 190:Race and Religion in Early Virginia Seminar (.5 unit)

    AMST 298/RELG 210 satisfies a general education requirement for historical studies (FSHT).

    IDST 190 is a half-unit project based course part of the Endeavor program.

  • Specific Course Information

    AMST 298/RELG 210: Race and Religion in Early Virginia

    This course surveys the entangled history of Christianity and slavery in early Virginia. Topical units on “Mapping Black Baptists,” “Letters of the Skipwith Family,” and “The Apotheosis of Nat Turner” provide opportunities for students to engage in original research on the religious lives of enslaved African Americans, drawing on rare archival manuscripts on campus at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and at the University of Virginia. The course includes field research at historical sites in downtown Richmond and at Bremo Plantation in Fluvanna County. Graded assignments stress the development of persuasive historical arguments and their presentation both in traditional expository writing essays and through emerging digital media. Co-curricular Endeavor events provide opportunities for students to gather for film and documentary screenings and talk with leading scholars in the field of African American religious history.

    IDST 190: Race and Religion in Early Virginia Seminar

    Students may have several possibilities for a spring research project, depending on the interests of the class. Each emphasizes collaborative student research and builds on topics we will discuss during the fall semester. One option involves designing a curated digital tour of historic sites related to the Nat Turner revolt in Southampton County, Virginia. Or the class might consider building a web map that explores the religious world of enslaved African Americans at John Hartwell Cocke’s Bremo Plantation. Alternatively, students could develop a digital humanities research project documenting the lives of enslaved and free African American church members listed in a selection of church registers at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

  • Faculty Information


    Dr. Douglas Winiarski is a Professor of Religious Studies. Learn more about Doug’s teaching and research interests at his personal website.

  • Roadmap Short Course Information

    As part of the Endeavor program, you will participate in the popular Roadmap to Success pre-orientation program, where you will take a short course led by Dr. Winiarski.

    Short Course Description: Reading the New World/Reading Your New World

    It probably comes as no surprise to learn you’ll be spending a fair amount of time reading this fall. And an important component of our Endeavor course involves learning to decipher the spidery cursive handwriting appearing in diaries, letters, and other religious documents from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But first things first! This week, you’ll need to learn to how read our campus, your “new world.” In this Roadmap course, we’ll do both. As we prepare for a semester studying the troubled history of race and religion in early Virginia, you’ll discover some of the best places on campus while engaging in hands-on research with rare manuscripts in the collections at Boatwright Library.