This essay argues that Rev. Dr. William J. Barber’s message on “Higher Ground,” a speech delivered at a massive 2014 protest rally, reveals his intentional problematization of distinctions between the sacred and the secular. As Barber’s articulation of what Ashon Crawley calls “Blackpentecostal breath” spill over the boundaries posited by conventional categories—they are too ecstatic to be ordinary speeches, and too political to be traditional sermons—these plural expressions identify themselves as sounds that come from another world. If both content and form are understood as thought, it becomes apparent that these prophetic utterances critique the oppression wrought by contemporary social orders, announcing the reality of live-giving, just forms of social life. In place of the world that seems natural, Barber’s incantations presence a world to-come, a higher ground. Thus, while Barber’s sound is familiar as a signature of black Christian contexts, his public ministry asserts that aesthetic practices such as these contain a surplus, a transformative and collectivizing capacity. Barber’s ecstatic preaching, then, functions as a technology of transcendence which refuses putative divisions between the sacred and the secular, advancing in their place a moral worldview.
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Shelley, Braxton D.
"Higher Ground: Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Political Content of Prophetic Form,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
2, Article 7.