This introductory chapter states that the book depicts black playwrights actively grappling with the role of religion in forming black identity before World War II. Early twentieth-century black playwrights constituted a highly educated and activist class of individuals more likely to be touched by the hand of modern humanism than by baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though most viewed theater as a tool for challenging African American stereotypes, the book argues that a majority of these playwrights also saw the stage as a place from which to combat the idea that an emotional, superstitious, irrational, and blindly faithful form of religious life was endemic to black character. In a Christian social order where the concept of soul is perceived as differentiating human beings from all other living things, chattel slavery brought with it the claim that Africans lacked this essential element of personhood.
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