"African American spirituality is born of the pride and the pain, the horror and the hope of a people whose eyes have always been watching God and whose hands stayed firm on the plow as they fought their way to freedom. It is a spirituality forged in the fiery furnace of more than four hundred years of slavery, segregation, and racism but grounded in a history thousands of years old of a people who believed in someone greater than themselves," writes Diana L. Hayes, professor emerita of systematic theology at Georgetown University.

In this substantive history of African American spirituality, she begins with a look at its roots in the peoples and cultures of west and central Africa. She covers the theology of proverbs, the many names of God, life in community, emotional worship, sin as anything that destroys life, and the importance of the ancestors, a series of rituals, and a sense of creation as a gift of God.

The African indigenous tradition was handed down by oral transmission and parts of it were then incorporated into the emerging African American spirituality including spirit possession, the predominance of music and movement in worship, and a heavy emphasis on social justice.

Hayes moves on to cover the emergence of the black church, the struggle for justice in the Civil Rights movement, the development of the spirituality of African American women, and a closing section on the diversity of black spirituality in action. Here Hayes presents profiles of leaders, movers, and shakers. Forged in the Fiery Furnace vividly conveys the vigor and resilience of African American spirituality both yesterday and today.