Note: This piece originally appeared in The Guardian. An excerpt can be found below. The full version can be found here.
D’Angelo’s album, Black Messiah, caused a huge sensation when it dropped last month. Its songs were greeted as welcome transcendent messages in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. The title of the album, with its messianic reference, hinted at its ambition to function as something like religious guidance. The songs evoke a justice-focused, religious sensibility – what I like to call a Pentecostal piety – that recalls the civil rights battle and that can underpin the Black Lives Matter movement.
First, a clarification: When I refer to Pentecostal piety, I’m not referring to a specific denomination of the Christian faith. Instead, “Pentecostal” here refers to the role of the Holy Spirit in political action. The Holy Spirit is a wellspring of solidarity that undergirds commitment to building a commonwealth, common good society among individuals of differing backgrounds and moral commitments. To riff on religion scholar Robert Bellah, Pentecostal piety is probably best thought of as a subversive civil religion.