What is the Black Atlantic, and why is it important in understanding religion and popular culture?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The idea of the Black Atlantic, which appears in the title of Paul Gilroy’s book, relates to the African diaspora around the Atlantic Ocean and the ongoing influences of African culture in all territories that Africans reached. While the concept is crucial to exploring changing concepts of race and is often associated with the impact of slavery, it is applied in analyzing every aspect of culture and society. Gilroy is among the many scholars who have analyzed African—primarily sub-saharan—contributions to American and European society especially, but not exclusively in countries and regions that have a majority black population. While some scholars emphasize the East-to-West trans-Atlantic impact, others note the connections between Africa and Europe that long preceded Europeans’ arrival in the Caribbean.

On a broad scale, the concept is concerned with transnational issues and intellectual and cultural hybridity. The strong positive impact of diverse African cultures and societies has been documented, and scholars in varied disciplines—especially within the humanities, arts, and social sciences—work with the concept. In literature, the strong impact of African traditions of orality is often noted; for example, the griot storyteller-performer has influenced hip-hop. In music, African features in jazz include tonality and syncopation.

Religious aspects include the interrelationship of traditional Frican belief systems that predated Christianity and Islam throughout the continent. In particular, attention has been drawn to New World religious traditions that draw on elements of two or more religions, in the process called syncretism. Caribbean vodou and Brazilian candomble are two such traditions. Furthermore, Black Atlantic history includes the growth of Islam in the Americas and the establishment of African American Protestant denominations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team