Examining the role that religion played in the African-American community, primarily pre-civil war, can be a difficult task due to the limited amount of evidence available.1 While it is a common notion that slavery life was embedded with Christian ideals, a Christian-like ideology is likely more accurate.2 Syncretism occurred with the combining of African tradition and Christian principles to create an African-American spirituality specific to its people. Whites, being leery not to encourage freedom-based teachings of Christianity, provided a watered-down version that stayed true to the salvation message and passages encouraging the slave's docility, but avoided passages promoting freedom primarily found in the Old Testament. The Great Awakening of the 1740's proved to be an instrumental event of the new African-American spirituality with its focal point on a "personal relationship" with God and conversion of the masses, rather than the liturgical and theological focus prior to the awakening.3 This development enabled lay preachers with no theological background to attempt mass conversion using emotional strategies rather than ideology to persuade non-believers, and created a more accessible Christianity that the slaves could grasp and integrate into their own spirituality. Though Christianity was not likely whole-heartedly accepted by the millions of slaves that the church claims were converted, it is undeniable that the influence Christianity played in their cultural development was vast and extensive. .
This conglomeration of ideals to form an authentic African-American spirituality with Christian and African overtones has been described as the "invisible institution"4, as even small, private gatherings for worship among slaves was forbidden. While implementing limited organization and keeping the meaning of their rituals private. Slaves were able to develop methods of worship that were not only unique to their people, but were filled with elements of worship not previously associated with traditionally Christian worship.