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African Diaspora Religions Unit

Call for Proposals for November Meeting

The Power of Our Archive: Co-Sponsored with Queer Studies in Religion, and potentially the African Religions Unit and Afro-American Religious History Unit

“I urge States to take concrete steps, with the full participation of people of African descent and their communities, to tackle old and new forms of racial discrimination; and to dismantle entrenched structural and institutional racism." --- UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The year 2024 marks the close of the United Nation’s decades-long proclamation to celebrate people of  African descent as representatives of a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.  2024 also heralds the 150th anniversary of Afro-Puerto Rican, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, whose collection of Black literature, enslaved peoples’ narratives, artwork, artifacts, and diasporic materials has become foremost in the study of Black life. Finally, Lydia Cabrera’s iconic work, El Monte: Notes on the Religions, Magic, and Folklore of the Black and Creole People of Cuba will turn 70, in 2024; and the first English translation is now available.

Throughout African Diaspora history there have been archives, inviting deep exploration into the unknown, the obscured, and the known. Sometimes hidden in plain sight, including Obeah oaths in the narrative of Tacky’s Rebellion and Jamaica’s Baptist War; juridical, birth, and death records compared against oral histories, historical art, and illustration of colonial encounters that include but are not limited to narratives of race, ethnicity, gender, class, dis/ability, sexuality/ies under an array of micro and macro violent technologies (fear, shame, physical, psychological and psychosocial abuse); and the Colored Conventions Project (1830) or the Early Caribbean Digital Archives (2011).

This panel seeks to explore the idea, presence, and importance of archives among us when all too often our archives were oral and aural, normatively shaped, vanished, or erased.


Sustaining Environmental Change-I

Co-Sponsored with Space and Place in Religion

This panel asks: in the face of disaster, firestorms, floods, turbulent weather systems, and globalized systems of environmental racism, how do we make sense of climate change, survival of ourselves and the planet, and environmental justice concerning African/Diaspora cosmology and cultural and spiritual beliefs and ceremonial practices? Environmental Activist Wangari Maathai in her 2004 Nobel Prize Acceptance Lecture in Oslo states: “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life support system… We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wombs and, in the process, heal our own.  Indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder.” The Yoruba concept of Àṣẹ champions the power of rocks, trees, wind, thunder, waterfalls, and lightning as things, as cipher or orixá constitute the indigenous ecologies that support our lives and culture. Currently, the earth is in an apparent radical transition, resisting and responding to human impact in a myriad of tumultuous ways. Maathai points to Yoruba indigenous culture’s cosmological care for the ecology, which, like many indigenous communities, was disrupted through development projects and colonial encounters. Yet, it is clear that, if we do not collectively alter our ways of being by supporting the futurity of ecology and sustainability in the continuation of human and planetary existence, we will evidence greater loss of life, our planetary home, and culture.


Sustaining Environmental Change II

"There is another step…we have to take another step." – Nikki Giovanni.

In this applied performative session, we will address and engage catastrophe as a conversation with California’s shifting ecologies and Diaspora culture and knowledge. A catastrophe signals an event producing a sudden and violent change, producing a subversion of the order or system of things. Since the extraction from our homelands sent Africans to new environs, some chose ontological resistance and quickly “flew home”, lest we forget the souls who left Ibo Landing. Leaning into submission was not an option.

Making sense of catastrophic situations invites critical engagement (= paradigmatic change), and radical solutions that acknowledge the situation’s gravity without succumbing to victimology by harnessing agency as a mode of survival. Given the threats and vagaries of the present, what futures can historically considered marginalized, vanished, and/or erased peoples imagine? We invite practitioners, artists, and activists to bear witness and help us imagine ways and means of surmounting catastrophe as African descendant peoples.

Statement of Purpose

The African Diaspora Religions Unit aims 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, Afro-Asia, and Afro-Judaism, in 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, Asia and South Asia.
Our unit explores broad geographies, histories, and cultures of people of African descent and the way they shape the religious landscape, in the Caribbean and the Americas, 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 interdisciplinary approaches and confluent/convergent [spiritual] belief systems which is central to its vision.


Steering Committee Members


Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members