This article explores the historiography of the modern civil rights movement at the point where African American religious history and American political history intersect. Several scholars who have written about African American religion and politics during the 1950s and 1960s have wrestled with the significance of the appearance, characteristics, and motives of religions as expressions of political activism. By engaging how some scholars have created narrative portraits of organized African American religious women and men, I examine their stated and implicit definitions of African American religiosity, arguing that these definitions produce a historiographic portrait of religion as activism that refracts religious beliefs and practices through the lenses of social and political activism, thereby limiting the scholarly landscape of African American religious thought and expression in this period. I suggest the inclusion of recent works to broaden our sense of this period's religious landscape without dismissing the era's important politics.

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