Albert J. Raboteau, Who Transformed Black Religious Studies, Dies at 78


When Albert was still an infant, his mother, Mabel (Ishem) Raboteau, a teacher and domestic worker, moved with him and his two sisters to Ann Arbor, Mich., both to escape the horrors of the Jim Crow-era Deep South and to find new opportunities in the North.

His family being Roman Catholic, Albert attended parochial schools, both in Michigan and in Pasadena, Calif., where his family moved in 1958. By then his mother had married Royal L. Woods, a former priest from Mississippi who had left the clergy over racism within the church.

Mr. Woods taught Albert Latin and Greek, and despite his own fallout with the Catholic Church, he influenced Albert’s childhood interest in becoming a monk, as did Albert’s avid reading of progressive Catholic writers like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

Though Dr. Raboteau never joined the priesthood, his interest in religion shaped his academic and professional career. He attended Loyola University, today Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit institution in Los Angeles, and later received a master’s degree in literature from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1966.

His time at Berkeley coincided with the tumult of the counterculture and antiwar movements, as well as the blossoming of Black political consciousness on college campuses. At Marquette University, where he went for a master’s degree in theology, he helped lead a protest that shut down the school for two weeks, calling on Marquette to bring in more Black students and faculty.

After graduating from Marquette, Dr. Raboteau taught theology at Xavier University in New Orleans. But the courses ground him down, forcing him to confront questions about his own beliefs that he was not ready to answer.



New York time

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