From Soul on Ice to Soul on Fire: the religious conversion of Eldridge Cleaver

Ashley Lavelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the 1960s, Black Panther firebrand Eldridge Cleaver gained a reputation as a radical advocate of armed resistance to the American state. But Cleaver underwent in the 1970s a startling transformation, re-surfacing as a born-again Christian and, later, a Reaganite. Cleaver's story is not entirely without precedent: fanatical revolutionaries -- formerly devout atheists among them -- have turned to religion before. Yet, the process this involves remains something of a mystery. This paper explores the process through the conspicuous case of Eldridge Cleaver. The paper discusses two main explanations for his conversion. The first is that Cleaver suffered an 'experience of defeat': he turned away from his radical politics in despair following the defeat of the Black Panthers in particular, and of the 1960s movements in general, after which he opted to channel his energies in the seemingly more viable direction of religion. The second explanation suggests that Cleaver's behaviour is better understood not so much in structural terms in the sense of a changing political landscape to which radicals were forced to adapt, but rather as a product of a personality and psychology whose most prominent feature was an almost never-ending quest for meaning and identity that made it difficult for him to commit to any cause for long. Viewed from this angle, Cleaver over the course of his life routinely replaced one creed with another -- whether in the form of politics, religion, or commerce. Adapted from source document.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-93
Number of pages19
JournalPolitics, religion, ideology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Radicalism Psychology,article,9109: politics,political movements/activism
  • Identity
  • Religion Politics Relationship
  • Reputation
  • Advocacy
  • Resistance
  • Christians
  • Religions


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