Your assignment is to prepare and submit a paper on peoples temple and black religion in america. The various chapters bring together reflections on the Peoples Temple that span a twenty-five year time period. Contributors include African-American Studies specialists such as Milton Harrison and Mary Sawyer as well as Religious Studies faculty including C. Eric Lincoln, Lawrence Mamiya, and Anthony Pinn. The book also includes chapters by Black pastors such as Muhammed Isaiah Kenyatta and. Alfred Smith, Jr. Most of the writers attempt to revise the often-accepted view that the Peoples Temple was controlled by Jim Jones and other European-American leaders who exerted extensive charismatic control over a generally compliant and/or brainwashed African-American majority. This black majority (representing 67% of the population, for example, at Jonestown) was comprised of people who came predominately from the working classes of the southern United States and included twice as many women as men.
The Peoples Temple was a racially mixed and substantially black religious society within which—the writers contend—African-Americans had tremendous influence. The editors contend that this influence has been downplayed by most academics who have written about the Peoples Temple, largely because scholars tend to identify the Peoples Temple as a “New Religious Movement” and to operate within the theoretical framework within which such groups are customarily analyzed.
The writers do acknowledge that most leaders of the Peoples Temple at the highest levels were European-American. But they do not believe that this phenomenon automatically disempowered African-American members. In the Guyana outpost, for example, many of the key leadership positions were held by African-Americans.
More importantly, many of the contributors to this volume believe that it is absolutely necessary to evaluate Jones as a church leader from the perspective of the African-American religious community. The editors, for example, note that Jones and the Peoples Temple “emulated Black Church culture in style and form and, to some extent, in substance” (Janzen 294-297). .