Of Faith and Fiction: Teaching W. E. B. Du Bois and Religion


Of Faith and Fiction: Teaching W. E. B. Du Bois and Religion



For years, many people—including nearly all of Du Bois’s biographers—assumed that his critical comments toward Christianity coupled with a membership in the Communist Party, U.S.A. meant that he was agnostic or an atheist. However, one of Du Bois’s closest admirers and comrades (and later editor of many of his writings), the marxist scholar Herbert Aptheker, maintained in 1980 that Du Bois had great respect for “social christianity” and admired the “revolutionary, or at least radical and challenging” message of jesus. In an article published two years later, Aptheker continued to make the case that although Du Bois was probably an agnostic, scholars should examine critically the spiritual dimensions of his life.3

Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, scholars acknowledged the validity of Aptheker’s claims and transformed understanding of Du Bois. Those who study Du Bois and religion uniformly show how religion constituted a major part of his social scientific analysis of the world. Others document how a latent spirituality informed Du Bois’s outlook on politics, economics, and society. most of this work analyzes Du Bois’s major studies and only minimally makes use of Du Bois’s creative writing, with even less attention on what he wrote for The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine that he edited from 1910 to 1934. This essay complements the existing scholarship on Du Bois and religion by attempting to more fully utilize what I call his “Crisis corpus.” More specifically, by utilizing the latest scholarly perspectives, I offer pedagogical strategies by sharing document-based lessons on Du Bois and religion from my own experience teaching in a secondary setting and university classroom. I will discuss how i incorporate columns from the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine into lessons on early twentieth-century America. Reading the contents of The Crisis—in particular the appearance of religion on its pages—can provide a more nuanced understanding of the rapid changes that defined the first few decades of twentieth-century American history


Religion and Justice


Published in The History Teacher, volume 45, number 3, May 2012, p. 421-436.  Society for History Education


Society for History Education




Phillip Luke Sinitiere, “Of Faith and Fiction: Teaching W. E. B. Du Bois and Religion,” Antiracism Digital Library, accessed June 25, 2024, https://sacred.omeka.net/items/show/261.