Spiritual Baptist

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The Spiritual Baptist faith is a Christian religion created by enslaved Africans in the plantations they came to in the former British West Indies countries predominately in the islands of a Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago and the Virgin Islands. It is syncretic Afro-American religion that combines elements of the different traditional African religion brought by the enslaved populations combined with Christianity. Spiritual Baptists consider themselves to be Christians.


The Baptist faith has a different beginning in the nation of Trinidad, as unlike the spiritual baptist tradition in the other countries where the religion developed in the plantations where the enslaved were sent, the religion in Trinidad was brought into the country by the Merikins, former American slaves who were recruited by the British to fight, as the Corps of Colonial Marines, against the Americans during the War of 1812. After the end of the war, these ex-slaves were settled in Trinidad, to the east of the Mission of Savannah Grande (now known as Princes Town) in six villages, since then called the Company Villages. [1] [2]

These American settlers brought with them the Baptist faith of the Second Great Awakening combined with, in the case of those from Georgia, the Gullah culture. With the coming of missionaries of the Baptist Missionary Society from Great Britain, the Baptist faith in the Company Villages was much affected, but despite the ensuing schism between the so-called London Baptists and the rest, the Baptist congregations of the Company Villages, even including those with Gullah origins, retained so little visible African influence in their practice that John Hackshaw was able to give a different view of the Baptists in the north of the country:

"While those that settled in the 'Company Villages' were exposed to the Baptist Missionary Society's influence, those that settled in the North practiced their beliefs as brought from America with the inclusion of African religious practice and beliefs joined by those they met here which blossomed into the group now known as 'Spiritual Baptists'." [2]

The faith expanded to Barbados in 1957 as the Sons of God Apostolic Spiritual Baptists movement. [3] It now ranks as one of two indigenous religions in the country, the other being the Rastafari religion. [4] Archbishop Granville Williams, who was born in Barbados, lived for 16 years in Trinidad and Tobago, where he witnessed the local Spiritual Baptists. Becoming enthusiastic about the Trinidadian movement, he asserted that he had seen a vision and heard the voice of God. Upon returning to Barbados he held the first open-air meeting in Oistins, Christ Church. Due to a well received response in Barbados, he quickly established the Jerusalem Apostolic Spiritual Baptist Church in Ealing Grove. This church was quickly followed by Zion at Richmond Gap. As of 1999 the following in Barbados had reached around 1,900 and the Jerusalem church had been rebuilt to seat 3,000.


The local name of the Spiritual Baptist in Trinidad are called the Shouters which derives from the characteristic practice of the religion. Followers are very vocal in singing, praying, and preaching. However, shouter is seen as a derogatory term and the term spiritual is preferred due to the practice of invoking the Holy Spirit during worship.

The local name of the Spiritual Baptist in St Vincent are called the shakers due to their practice of invoking the Holy Spirit during their praise and worship.

Religious focus

The activities of the Spiritual Baptists in Trinidad and Tobago were prohibited in 1917 by the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance, which was eventually repealed in 1951. The late opposition parliamentarian Ashford Sinanan moved to repeal the ordinance under the PNM government and was successful. Today Spiritual Baptists can practise their religion freely. The United National Congress granted them a national holiday and also gave them land on which to establish their headquarters.

Typical attire

The colours of the headdress or clothes vary and represent the 'spiritual cities' or the saints with which the individual most relates. [ citation needed ]


Men can wear a headwrap however the very top of the head is usually left uncovered. Men tend to wear a gown or short cassocks. Persons of higher rank (Shepherds, Reverends, Bishops, etc.) can wear a surplice over the gown.



In 1996 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago granted a public holiday to the Spiritual Baptist faith, to be celebrated on 30 March, called Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day, in memory of the struggle and in recognition of the repeal of the prohibition law. [5] Trinidad and Tobago is the only country that celebrates a public holiday for the Spiritual Baptist faith.

Shango Baptists

Shango Baptists was created in Trinidad and only practiced in Trinidad. It has no relation to the spiritual baptist religion. Shango is the practice of the Trinidad Orisha religion. In Trinidad, Orisha is also called Shango, and the term "Shango Baptist" is sometimes used to describe worshipers who are involved with both Spiritual Baptism and Orisha/Shango. The term "Shango Baptist" has come to have negative connotations for some worshippers of both Spiritual Baptism and Orisha/Shango, who argue that those who say "Shango Baptist" conflate the two religions, when in fact they are completely separate regions. As some have said, "There is no thing as Shango Baptist. Shango is Shango. Baptist is Baptist". [6] Others say that Shango Baptists simply "wear two hats"; their mixture of "Baptist and Orisha practices" is a result of similar oppression by Colonial authorities in Trinidad. [7]

In practice, the Trinidad Orisha religion is not connected with the Spiritual Baptisms. Orisha worship services are not similar to and not held at the same locations as Spiritual Baptist churches. [8]

Places of worship of Spiritual Baptist




Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Trinidad and Tobago

United States

See also

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Stephen D. Glazier is an American anthropologist. Currently, he is a research anthropologist at the Human Relations Area Files at Yale University. Since 1976, Glazier has conducted ethnographic fieldwork on the Caribbean island of Trinidad focusing on Caribbean religions such as Rastafari, Orisa/Sango, and the Spiritual Baptists <Orisa/Sango>. He has also published on Caribbean archaeology and prehistory and cataloged Irving Rouse's St. Joseph (Trinidad) and Mayo (Trinidad) collections for the Peabody Museum of Natural History. In 2016, Glazier retired as professor of anthropology and graduate faculty faculty fellow at the University of Nebraska, where he taught classes in general (four-field) anthropology, race and minority relations, and a graduate seminar on the anthropology of belief systems <https://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Anthropology-of-Belief-and-Belief-Systems.pdf>. Glazier began graduate studies in anthropology at Princeton University studying under Martin G. Silverman, Benjamin Ray, Hildred Geertz, Alfonso Ortiz, and Vincent Crapanzano. In 1974, he earned an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His M. Div. thesis – directed by James Loder and Hildred Geertz – was based on experiences as an assistant chaplain at New Jersey Neuro Psychiatric Institute. His thesis dealt with patterns of schizophrenic speech. Glazier was awarded a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Connecticut in 1981. His dissertation advisors were Seth Leacock, Dennison J. Nash, and Ronald M. Wintrob. He served as book review editor of the journal Anthropology of Consciousness and was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of the Virgin Island Archaeological Society and is currently a member of the editorial advisory boards of the journals Open Theology<http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/opth?lang=en> and PentecoStudies<https://journals.equinoxpub.com/PENT/about/editorialTeamBio/11306>. Glazier served two terms as president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. In addition, he served as vice president and secretary of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion http://sar.americananthro.org and as a council member and as secretary of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Trinidad Orisha

Trinidad Orisha, also known as Shango, is a syncretic religion in Trinidad and Tobago and is of Caribbean origin, originally from West Africa. Trinidad Orisha incorporates elements of Spiritual Baptism, and the closeness between Orisha and Spiritual Baptism has led to use of the term "Shango Baptist" to refer to members of either or both religions. Anthropologist James Houk described Trinidad Orisha as an "Afro-American religious complex", incorporating elements mainly of traditional African religion and Yoruba and incorporates some elements of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Baháʼí, and Trinidad Kabbalah.

The Wine of Astonishment is a 1982 novel written by Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace. The story depicts the struggles of a Spiritual Baptist community from the passing of the Prohibition Ordinance to repealing of the ban, portraying a 20-year struggle from 1932 to 1951. Themes such as racism, women in society, religion, change, oppression, power and authority are featured throughout the book.


  1. Weiss, John McNish (2002). The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad, 1815-16.
  2. 1 2 Hackshaw, John M. n.d. (c. 1991). The Baptist Denomination: A Concise History Commemorating One Hundred and Seventy-Five Years (18161991) of the Establishment of the ‘Company Villages’ and the BAPTIST FAITH in Trinidad and Tobago. Amphy and Bashana Jackson Memorial Society.
  3. Barbadians, Countries and Their Cultures.
  4. Rastafarianism in Barbados
  5. Spiritual Baptists, National Library and Information System of Trinidad and Tobago
  6. Lum, Kenneth Ant (2000). Praising His Name in the Dance: Spirit Possession in the Spiritual Baptist Faith and Orisha Work, Trinidad, West Indies. Psychology Press. p. 292.
  7. Ashby, Glenville. "Mahaba's Message".
  8. Bazinet, Ryan (2012). "Shango Dances Across the Water: Music and the Re-Construction of Trinidadian Orisha in New York City". In Kamille Gentles-Peart; Maurice L. Hall (eds.). Re-Constructing Place and Space: Media, Culture, Discourse and the Constitution of Caribbean Diasporas. Cambridge Scholars Press.

Further reading