PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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African Diaspora Religions Unit

Statement of Purpose: 

Our unit explores broad geographies, histories, and cultures of people of African descent and the way they shape the religious landscape, not only in the Caribbean and the Americas, but also in Europe and Asia. We define “diaspora” as the spread and dispersal of people of African descent — both forced and voluntary — through the slave trade, imperial and colonial displacements, and postcolonial migrations. This Unit emphasizes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach which is central to its vision. The aim is to engage a wide range of disciplines and a variety of scholars who work on different aspects of African diaspora religions. It considers the linguistic and cultural complexities of the African diaspora, the importance of African traditional religions, Afro-Christianity, Afro-Islam, and Afro-Judaism, the way they have and continue to inform an understanding of Africa, and also the way they have and continue to shape the religious landscape of the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Call for Papers: 

This is a call for papers/presentations for four separate sessions. There are two roundtables and two panels. Please see below for details and let us know clearly for which session you are submitting a proposal.

• The Encounter of Digital Media and Ritual in African Diaspora Religions
The African Diaspora Religions Group invites proposals that investigate and discuss the many ways people in diasporic traditions are increasingly using Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and other digital media sources to discuss ritual and perform rituals, thus engaging and working with people who are not in the same physical space. We are interested in presentations that examine a range of rituals from divination/discernment to possession, where the internet is used for significant spiritual work, education, and mentoring in African diaspora religions. We are also interested in presentations that will address the use of social media in the life of ritual communities – especially those whose members may live in different regions of the country or different parts of the world. As social media increasing becomes part of the daily lives of many people around the globe, how are practitioners of African diaspora religions engaging and making meaning of their encounters on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media formats? How are forms of divination, ritual offering, and ritual healing reimagined via digital media/mobile apps? What are both the potentials and limitations of such practices? Finally, we also welcome presentations that explore the ethics around secrecy and the problem of (mis)representation of the religions in the context of a global society where people use social media and the internet as key sources of information.

This session is a ROUNDTABLE and not a panel with formal papers. Please submit proposals for brief presentations (5-7 minutes); presentations will be followed by extended discussion among roundtable participants and the gathered audience.

• Responses to Violence against African Diaspora Religions: Brazil and beyond
Religions of African origin, both on the continent and in the diaspora, have long been targeted, exoticized, and demonized by Protestant, Catholic, and even Muslim ritual communities that are often more closely aligned with the structures of political and economic power in a given society. In recent years, attacks on African-based ritual traditions have become increasingly violent with the growth of neo-evangelical religious movements. In Brazil, for example, Candomblé temples and Umbanda centers have been invaded and altars desecrated or destroyed. Leaders and practitioners of African-based religions have been attacked and some have died as a result of assaults that are almost always connected to neo-evangelical Protestant congregations whose teachings include the idea that Afro-Brazilian religions are a form of “devil-worship.” A profound anti-Blackness is at the root of these attacks on indigenous, African-based religious expressions; and as a highly visible white supremacy becomes increasingly normalized in the US context, it seems important to examine, critique and imagine effective responses. On the African continent, Evangelicals (particularly Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors) berate African Religions as "ancestral cults" and explicitly teach their members that they remain poor because of these religious traditions.
In the midst of this disturbing picture, there have been some interesting reconciliative actions on the part of Christian congregations in Brazil who are appalled at the treatment of Afro-Brazilian ritual communities. Also, numerous grassroots protest marches in support of religious tolerance and respect for African-based religions have been organized by participants in Candomblé. While Brazil is one of the countries where violence against indigenous, African-based religions has been most marked, we are equally interested in presentations that explore this phenomenon (and creative responses to the violence) on the African continent itself and elsewhere in the diaspora. This session is a ROUNDTABLE and not a panel with formal papers. Please submit proposals for brief presentations (5-7 minutes); presentations will be followed by extended discussion among roundtable participants and the gathered audience. This session is co-sponsored with the African Association for the Study of Religion

• Charisma, Personality, and Power in African Religions
With the Anthropology of Religions Unit, the African Religions Unit, and the Africa Diaspora Religions Unit, there is a proposed panel on Charisma, Personality, and Power in African Religions. This panel aims to explore the potential of charisma, as an anthropological and sociological concept, for the critical and comparative study of authority, personality, power and leadership in African religious settings. We invite papers that provide ethnographic, historical and/or theoretical insight into the meanings, performance, and workings of charisma in various religious traditions and communities on the continent and its diaspora. Papers that explore charisma in relation to other categories of power, such as gender, age, race, and sexuality, and in relation to political and institutional structures, are particularly welcome. This session is a panel with formal papers. Please submit proposals for 15 minute papers.

• Decolonization as Healing
With a wide range of other units, we plan to co-sponsor a session on the theme of decolonization as healing, recognizing that colonization in Africa and in other parts of our world has resulted in both historical and ongoing threats to health and wellbeing. We are looking for papers that address facets of this theme, including but not limited to: “Place, Land, and Environmental Degradation,” “Decolonization/Restoration of Identities,” “Vocabularies and Pragmatic Applications of Rituals and Ceremonies,” "Reclaiming the Past, Imagining the Future," and “Tradition as Healer”. Co-sponsored with the Religions, Medicines and Healing; African Diaspora Religions, African Religions; Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society; Body and Religion; Indigenous Religious Traditions; Latina/o Religion, Culture, and Society; Native Traditions in the Americas; Religions in the Latina/o Americas; Religion in South Asia, Religion in Southeast Asia; and Religion, Colonialism and Postcolonialism; and World Christianity Units. Successful proposals will clearly identify where the project fits within the Call for Papers, and will speak to its broader implications for African American religious history.
This session is a panel. Please submit a proposal for a paper or presentation. If your proposal is chosen, your paper will be circulated ahead of the conference and you’ll be asked to give a brief (5-7 minute) summary of the paper during the conference session.

• Mysticism in Religions of the African Diaspora
How well does the term mysticism apply to the religions of the African diaspora? How has mysticism functioned in these traditions? Co-sponsorship with the African Diaspora Religions Unit and the Mysticism Unit.

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