You are here

African Diaspora Religions Unit

Call for Proposals

Moving and Centering the Body: Embodied Experiential Engagement in African Diaspora Religions

The African Diaspora Religions Unit, in recognition of our tenth anniversary and the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, embarks on a project of reframing the body in research and pedagogies of African Diaspora religious and theological studies. Although the past decade has been punctuated by heightened recognition of bodies, body troubles and bodies in trouble, religious and theological scholarship in western spaces are often hesitant to engage in deep critical inquiry of the body. Against the backdrop of a decade of body strife in social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental spaces and beyond, the African Diaspora Religions unit endeavors a serious undertaking of the body, body knowledge and understanding of the body/bodies in the practice of religious and spiritual expression.

This call is guided by driving questions such as: How does the body/embodiment inform the knowing, knowledge, and processes of being-in-the-world of scholars-of-practice and practicing scholars in African Diaspora religions; in what ways do bodies create, generate, translate, and transmit knowledge; under what conditions are bodies the primary source of knowing? This call is for embodied experiential engagements - defined as bodies intentionally in motion and an epistemological stance whereby bodies are central articulations of knowing, knowledge, and pedagogy; the body as religious or theological enquiry and itself a theology.

We are looking for short (20 - 30 minutes), medium (30 - 45 minutes,) and long (45 minutes plus) form embodied experiential encounters. Each Encounter should be organized to take participants through clear processes that include methodology and analysis. We are not looking for “papers” as such, but for scholar/practitioner/artist-led experiences that can be shared in an embodied way with participants. Experiences might include guided movement, dance, or music but are not limited to these. Experiences that center differently-abled B/being-ness as an aspect of Africana religious life are also welcome. The encounters should be framed to enable some time for collective reflection; an opportunity for participants to think through the takeaways of the experience.

In his 1997 publication Worship as Body Language, Elochukwu E. Uzukwu charts western disruption of the body’s value in worship and society from the Graeco-Roman era to the late twentieth century, remarking that Christianity popularized the notion that the body is a “burden to self, a prison for the soul.” The positioning of the body as separate from and antagonistic to the soul is counter to the worldview of African traditional cultures and belief systems, where the body and soul are indelibly intertwined, affirming a knowing that the “rhythm of interaction in this universe is discovered, recreated, and expressed bodily by humans.” Two examples of this interaction come to us crossing the Middle Passage, in the Caribbean. Anansi/Legba/Eshu is a differently-abled deity whose crossroads identity (insect and human; male and female; able-bodied and disabled) transforms space and time in encounters with the dead and the living and personifies untethered possibilities inside and beyond normative western structures. Also, Anna K. Perkins’ work on Carnival and Dancehall culture focusses on the Christian religiosity in these celebratory spaces, which a western worldview assumes to be secular and/or profane. For Perkins, the bodily articulations of Caribbean spirituality are made visible in public rituals such as Carnival and Dancehall where participants not only “subvert ... negative Christian valuation of the body” but also “re-values bodies, especially colonised female bodies” (374). These are some of the examples we took as inspiration for our work of (re)centering the body.

CO-SPONSORED SESSION: African Diaspora Religions Unit, Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit, Native Religious Traditions Unit, and Teaching Religion Unit
Call for Papers: How to Teach Indigenous Religious Traditions
Heeding Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s call to center contemporary Indigenous politics, spiritual protocols, and authorship within research methodologies, this co-sponsored session will feature papers and demonstrations on teaching Indigenous religious traditions. Presenters will pre-circulate their pedagogical papers prior to the AAR meeting. Their written approach will be in close conversation with contemporary Indigenous methodologies, teachers, activists, writers, and intellectuals. At the 2020 AAR Boston session, panelists will speak for five minutes and then briefly demonstrate their approach to teaching specific Indigenous religious traditions.

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.


Steering Committee Members


E-mail without Attachment (proposal appears in body of e-mail)

Review Process

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