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The Aliites

Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali

The Aliites

Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali

“Citizenship is salvation,” preached Noble Drew Ali, leader of the Moorish Science Temple of America in the early twentieth century. Ali’s message was an aspirational call for black Americans to undertake a struggle for recognition from the state, one that would both ensure protection for all Americans through rights guaranteed by the law and correct the unjust implementation of law that prevailed in the racially segregated United States. Ali and his followers took on this mission of citizenship as a religious calling, working to carve out a place for themselves in American democracy and to bring about a society that lived up to what they considered the sacred purpose of the law.

In The Aliites, Spencer Dew traces the history and impact of Ali’s radical fusion of law and faith. Dew uncovers the influence of Ali’s teachings, including the many movements they inspired. As Dew shows, Ali’s teachings demonstrate an implicit yet critical component of the American approach to law: that it should express our highest ideals for society, even if it is rarely perfect in practice. Examining this robustly creative yet largely overlooked lineage of African American religious thought, Dew provides a window onto religion, race, citizenship, and law in America.

248 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Class 200: New Studies in Religion

Black Studies

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Political Science: Race and Politics

Religion: American Religions, Islam


"Dew’s The Aliites: Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali is a brilliant book brimming with sharp analysis and abundant compassion. . . . Spencer Dew has written the landmark book on the after-lives of the religious teachings of Noble Drew Ali."

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Dew’s book provides much more than description on these Aliite groups. He takes us into the complex workings of their theologies, ideas about law and citizenship, arguments about race and identity, and how Aliites interact with other American citizens. As such the book will find its place on many bookshelves and syllabi, especially for scholars of African American religions, religion and law, and religion and social identity. Dew’s interrogation of religion, race, and law is a model for scholars who study this intersection. Well-written, clearly argued, and full of original scholarship."

American Religion

"Aliite thought and practice should be recognized as fitting within a broader American tradition of seeking legal recognition, and thus justification, for religious practice and identity. Spencer Dew’s well-written, thoroughly researched account is a rich contribution to the literature on religion and law, while also providing thoughtful and necessary insight into the practices and beliefs of a lesser-known religious tradition."

Nova Religio

“In this remarkable book of personal and communal atonement, Dew honors what he calls ‘the intellectual aikido’ of Aliite thinkers across a hundred years of insistent devotion to the ideals of American citizenship. Placing the Aliites in the proud company of American freethinkers, Dew lays before us an alternative tradition of American democracy—of civic engagement as religion—from the founding of utopian communities to the courting of FBI surveillance. The Aliites introduces us to a fecund and vital vernacular legal imagination, one that could only be American.”

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Indiana University Bloomington

“A genuinely original work, The Aliites makes significant contributions to the study of religion, religion’s relationship to the law in the United States, and larger themes and patterns among Aliites. Dew’s organization of the book around elements of the Great Seal is creative and generative, foregrounding his excellent study of the centrality of the law and practices of citizenship in Aliite thought. This book offers the best interpretation currently available of many practices that contribute to outsiders’ evaluations of some of the modern groups as criminal, making it an enormously valuable work.”

Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University

Table of Contents

Preface: Dialing in to Contemporary American Religion
Introduction: “To Be Law-Abiders and Good Citizens”: Drew Ali’s “Divine and National Movement”

1 E pluribus unum: Drew Ali’s Democratic Theology

2 Stars in Relation to Stars: Aliite Sovereignty in Politics and Law

3 Annuit cœptis: Recognition, Authority, and Law

4 Beneath the Wings and the Shadow of the Eagle: Aliite Sovereignty and the Power of the State

5 The All-Seeing Eye: Display and Surveillance

6 The Unfinished Pyramid: Knowledge and the Legal

7 Novus ordo seclorum: Experiments in Reordering Society

Conclusion: Aliite Faith in American Citizenship



Journal of Africana Religions: Albert J. Raboteau Prize

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