The Souls of Womenfolk

The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South

By Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6360-9
    Published: September 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6359-3
    Published: September 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6361-6
    Published: September 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6013-2
    Published: September 2021

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Awards & distinctions

2022 Award for Best First Book in the History of Religions, American Academy of Religion

2022 Outstanding First Book Prize, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora

2022 Rosalyn Terborg-Penn Book Prize, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora

Finalist, 2022 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

Beginning on the shores of West Africa in the sixteenth century and ending in the U.S. Lower South on the eve of the Civil War, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh traces a bold history of the interior lives of bondwomen as they carved out an existence for themselves and their families amid the horrors of American slavery. With particular attention to maternity, sex, and other gendered aspects of women’s lives, she documents how bondwomen crafted female-centered cultures that shaped the religious consciousness and practices of entire enslaved communities. Indeed, gender as well as race co-constituted the Black religious subject, she argues—requiring a shift away from understandings of “slave religion” as a gender-amorphous category.

Women responded on many levels—ethically, ritually, and communally—to southern slavery. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Wells-Oghoghomeh shows how they remembered, reconfigured, and innovated beliefs and practices circulating between Africa and the Americas. In this way, she redresses the exclusion of enslaved women from the American religious narrative. Challenging conventional institutional histories, this book opens a rare window onto the spiritual strivings of one of the most remarkable and elusive groups in the American experience.

About the Author

Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh is assistant professor of religious studies at Stanford University.

For more information about Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, visit the Author Page.


"An astute unpacking of the experiences of enslaved African American women. . . . Throughout, the insightful excavation of historical records and bold theorizing create a convincing image of enslaved women’s lives and concerns. This important work will expand academics’ understanding of race and religion in the South."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Groundbreaking academic study…Wells-Oghoghomeh shows how the religious imaginations of enslaved women were deeply rooted in understandings of gender—and how those religious experiences gave shape not only to “the souls of womenfolk” but also to the communities around them.”—Christian Century

“An excellent debut work."—CHOICE

“One of the most important books in African American religious history of the past decade. . . . The book is a triumph.”—Civil War Book Review

"This book will be difficult for many, but it is very important for the understanding of the enslaved community and its descendants."—Reading Religion

“A powerful addition to a robust body of literature devoted to the experiences of African and African American women living under slavery. Wells-Oghoghomeh offers crucial insights, close analysis, and some surprising findings along the way. This book will likely become required reading for scholars in diverse fields, including African and African American studies, the transatlantic slave trade, and black women’s history."—The Middle Ground