A new book by Dr. Roger Baumann of the Hope College sociology faculty examines how African American Christian engagement with the global issue of Israel and Palestine reflects contrasting Black church traditions of political engagement.

“Black Visions of the Holy Land: African American Christian Engagement with Israel and Palestine,” published earlier this month by Columbia University Press, is based on six years of fieldwork in the United States, Israel and Palestine.  Considering cases ranging from African American Christian Zionists to Palestinian solidarity activists, Baumann traces how Black religious politics transcend domestic arenas and enter global spaces. These cases, he argues, illuminate how the meaning of the ostensibly singular and unifying category of “the Black Church” — spanning its history, identity, culture, and mission — is deeply contested.

“I look at how the contestation over the history, identity and mission of ‘the Black Church’ involves making choices about where within Black experiences to look for cultural points of reference and touchstones of historical significance,” said Baumann, who is an assistant professor of sociology and director of the college’s interdisciplinary peace and justice minor. “Who or what most appropriately represents the civil rights movement? And what image of that person should be upheld and emphasized? I found divergent and contradictory answers of African American Christians who variously identify as Christian Zionists, Palestinian solidarity activists or something else.”

An interfaith event at a Black Baptist church in 2016, for example, emphasized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement he helped lead as a model for Black-Jewish solidarity and, in turn, African American Christian religious and political support for the State of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians.  In contrast, Baumann describes Black college-age activists singing a song referencing political activist Assata Shakur two years later during a trip to Palestine that was designed in partnership with an ecumenical Palestinian Christian organization focused, he notes, on applying Christian liberation theology “in the face of what they describe as their ongoing struggle against occupation, violence, injustice and discrimination.”

Reviewer Dr. Brandon C. Martinez, associate professor of sociology at Providence College, described “Black Visions of the Holy Land” as “a well-written book on a relevant topic that offers new insights into the interplay of religion and politics. It focuses on a highly charged political issue that intersects with racial and religious group identities in a manner that is both respectful and unbiased.”

Reviewer Dr. Ruth Braunstein, who is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, said that “Roger Baumann’s deeply researched comparative study of African American Christians’ engagements with Israel and Palestine sheds light on how religion, race, and collective memory intertwine as communities develop surprisingly divergent visions of transnational solidarity. ’Black Visions of the Holy Land’ not only deepens our understanding of the Black Church’s political diversity and global reach but also offers timely insight into Americans’ complex alliances in the Middle East today.”

Baumann has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2020. His research and teaching focus on questions about collective identity and social action, and he is especially interested in how overlapping racial, religious and national identities contribute to how members of religious groups collectively understand who they are, where they come from and what they should be doing in the world.

He has had multiple articles published in refereed academic journals.  He is currently working on a project titled “American Evangelicals, Islam and the Competition for Religious Authority,” analyzing contemporary and historical American evangelical Christian struggles over the authority to define Islam and Muslims, with attention to the role of evangelical leaders and institutions within the pluralistic American public sphere.

Baumann graduated from the University of Waterloo in Canada with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies in 2007; from Harvard University with a master’s in religion, ethics and politics in 2009; and from Yale University with a doctorate in sociology in 2020.