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Our Own Vine and Fig Tree: The Authority of History and Kinship in Mother Bethel

Carolyn S. Beck
Review of Religious Research
Vol. 29, No. 4, Black American Religion in the Twentieth Century (Jun., 1988), pp. 369-384
DOI: 10.2307/3511576
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3511576
Page Count: 16
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Our Own Vine and Fig Tree: The Authority of History and Kinship in Mother Bethel
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Abstract

This ethnographic account of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is based on Keyes' interpretation of ethnicity as kinship, culturally rather than biologically determined. In Mother Bethel, kin relations presently are established by commitment to the legacy of the founder, Richard Allen. Key episodes in Allen's life constitute models for action and definitions of goals. The community has been shaped by oppositional processes (racial discrimination in worship and gentrification) and opportunity processes (migration from the rural South to Philadelphia and changes in the members' socio-economic status). Ambiguity in the legal definition of the locus of political authority infuses charismatic leadership with especially critical impact. The viability of Mother Bethel is centered in the capacity of the pastor to activate the ritual process by invoking the authority and power of history and kinship.

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