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Modern Voices
Albert Raboteau on Jarena Lee's conversion
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Q: What impact does Jarena Lee's spiritual conversion have on her life?
Albert Raboteau

A: Jarena Lee's conversion is protracted -- there's agonizing, and there's a refusal to obey the spirit, and then her eventual submission to the spirit -- is a very intense and very visionary conversion experience. It's interesting because that's also the case with a number of other black women's conversion narratives in the 19th century -- the strong emphasis on the spirit, and the spirit as empowering them to do something that is forbidden by the customs of the time, that is, to stand up and preach to mixed audiences ("mixed" here meaning men and women). And often this spirit also emboldens them to travel, to itinerate, to do something that is also not approved for women, especially because it means leaving their families -- in Jarena's case leaving her child for extended periods of time to do the work of the spirit and to preach.
Albert Raboteau
Professor of Religion
Princeton University

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