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Preacherly Texts: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature

M. Cooper Harriss
Journal of Africana Religions
Vol. 4, No. 2 (2016), pp. 278-290
DOI: 10.5325/jafrireli.4.2.0278
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Page Count: 13
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Preacherly Texts: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature
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Zora Neale Hurston called African American preachers “the first artists” and understood their sermons as foundational to Black expressive culture. This essay reads closely in Hurston's anthropological writing on preachers and preaching (especially in “The Sanctified Church” and Mules and Men) to codify certain semiotic principles of preaching that then provide a critical lens for discerning “preacherly” elements of three novels by Hurston: Jonah's Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Moses, Man of the Mountain. Rather than a simple textualization of oral craft, Hurston's novels reflect (diversely, and with varying degrees of success) complex “transcultural recirculations” among European, African, and American cultural elements that careful attention to Hurston's homiletics of literature draw out. These readings amplify Hurston's status as an original religious thinker—an element of her career that scholars frequently avoid or gloss over.

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