Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3628-2666

Year of Publication

2022

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department/School/Program

English

First Advisor

Dr. Michelle Sizemore

Second Advisor

Dr. Nazera Wright

Abstract

During the time of war, rebellion, and political upheaval in the early American nation, apocalyptic imagery featured prominently in the rhetoric of preachers, abolitionists, writers, and orators. As nineteenth-century, white, American men like George Lippard proleptically envisioned the ruins of America as a source of future longing for those looking back on a great nation, many Black religious women writing in the antebellum era imagined an apocalyptic event so cataclysmic that it would destroy and remake the nation. Apocalyptic discourse in the nineteenth century allowed Black women to eschew social constraints and deliver scathing critiques of the American sociopolitical landscape, as scholars like Kevin Pelletier have observed. However, less scholarly attention has been paid to how apocalyptic discourse opened up avenues for imaginative visions of future worlds, worlds in which Black women could be empowered and in which the terrors of the present could be left in the past. With their investment in apocalyptic discourse and transformed futures in which Black people are thriving, Black women religious writers in the nineteenth century are part of a philosophical and aesthetic tradition continued in the works of twentieth and twenty-first century Afrospeculative writers, such as Octavia Butler, Janelle Monáe, Rivers Solomon, NK Jemisin, and others.

In Perilous Times, I argue that the works nineteenth-century Black religious women like Maria W. Stewart, Zilpha Elaw, and Rebecca Cox Jackson anticipate the speculative yearnings of later Afrofuturistic and Black fantastic expression by imagining the transformative potential of the apocalypse. They tap into the fantastic discourse of Christian expression and use that discourse to communicate their longing for an imagined and empowered future for Black people, and more specifically Black women. In doing so, they push back against and critique the futures of subjugation imagined for them by a white, racist society. They narrativize the end times not as an event to be feared, but as an event that could confer freedom upon them by destroying the systems and structures that oppress them.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2022.256

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