Scriptures and Roots in Postscripts

Over in Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds, I have an article that has gone to press. It’s called “Reading Alex Haley’s Roots: Toward an Anthropology of Scriptures.” Here’s the abstract:

Alex Haley’s Roots reframed America’s discourse on race. The best selling novel and award winning miniseries centered the nation’s history around the experiences of African Americans. The multigenerational saga of Kunta Kinte’s descendants and their roots became a paradigm for American dreaming. This essay examines the scriptural qualities of Haley’s Roots, contending that the story has had a binding effect on America’s racial consciousness. Building on the work of Vincent L. Wimbush and James W. Watts, it approaches Haley’s Roots as a case study in the anthropology of scriptures. A discourse analysis of media allusions to Kunta Kinte underscores Roots as an interpretive site around which Americans uproot, route, and root for a sense of meaning. When read critically, Roots provides a vocabulary and grammar for articulating inter- and intra-racial dynamics, but also the politics that accompany the phenomenon of scriptures.

The article breaks down the discourse at play around the name “Kunta Kinte” in the some one the scenes shown in this video.

Also in this journal issue is a review forum on my Alabama colleague Merinda Simmons’s book, Changing the Subject: Writing Women Across the African Diaspora (Ohio University Press 2016). The forum includes pieces by Culture on the Edge members Leslie Dorrough Smith and Matt Sheedy.

I’m glad to see my piece in print. But I’m even more thrilled about it being included among some really outstanding thinkers that I’ve admired for a long time.

Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @seedpods

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