The purpose of this Unit is to recover the sources and histories related to the religious experiences of African-descended people in the United States; challenge, nuance, and expand theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of African-American religions; and create forums for critical, creative, and collaborative engagement with new scholarship in the field. The Unit is committed to the historical investigation of the diversity of U.S. African-Americans' religious experiences across chronological periods.
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Afro-American Religious History Unit
Call for Proposals
The Afro-American Religious History Unit invites proposals that explore the religiosity of African-descended people within the geographical and geo-cultural boundaries of the United States. For our 2023 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, we are especially interested in proposals that engage one or more of the following topics:
In conjunction with the AAR 2023 theme, “La Labor de Nuestras Manos” we invite papers that retheorize methods and methodologies in the study of Black religion through sources, technologies, and in classes, specifically:
- New theories and methods in the study of African-American religious practices, experiences, interiority;
- Reconceptualizations of the “Black religious” and/or “Black church” paradigm;
- Digital Humanities’ impact on the study of Black religion;
- Scholar positionality and research in African-American religious history;
- New approaches to the idea of “respectabilities” in Black religious practices;
- Highlights and critiques of the archives of Black religion;
- Revisiting the legacy of the AARDOC (https://aardoc.sites.amherst.edu/), The North Star (https://www.princeton.edu/~jweisenf/northstar/faq.html), and other archived projects;
- The relationship and/or tensions between Black Studies and the Study of Black Religions;
- Potential roundtable on Graduate Training in Africana/African-American Religions;
- Teaching African-American religious history;
Engaging Diaspora Religions Through Literature, Storytelling or Archival Narratives (Co-sponsorship between the African Diaspora Religions, Afro-American Religious History, Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Unit, African Religions, The Women and Religion Unit, the Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism)
Our units propose a panel focused on literature, poetry, orality, and archival sources related to African, African Diaspora, or Afro-American religions. Iconic texts from authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Gloria Anzaldua, and Gloria Naylor, among others, engage with faith, spirituality, embodiment, ancestrality, mourning, fellowship, borders/border crossings, and other issues, questions, and challenges. We invite papers that explore the power dynamics reflected in such texts, the provenance of the same, and the benefits and challenges of working with these kinds of sources. Do we understand and interpret faith differently depending on whether we rely on oral history or literature? Do archives permit access to faith?
African-American Religion and climate catastrophe, broadly configured, particularly:
- Historical topics that elucidate contemporary environmental landscapes and futures, especially in light of climate catastrophe and its impact on Black communities;
- The legacies and impacts of migration patterns and how they have and continue to shape practitioners of African-American religions;
- African-American religions and the environment, nature, and the land.
African-American Religion and so called “illicit” practices, specifically:
- Black religious communities, carceral systems, and the (de)criminalization of recreational substance use;
- Histories of African-American religion and narcotic and/or alcohol use, broadly configured (ritual, entheogenic, recreational, medicinal, etc.);
- Black religious communities and religious activism in relation to the history of other practices criminalized or deemed illicit, especially queer sex, sex work, pornography, and other practices (for a potential co-sponsored session with the Religion and Sexuality Unit);
- In light of the 50th anniversary of Roe, the repeal of Roe, and our location in Texas, we welcome proposals on Black religious communities and reproductive justice, including abortion, reproductive ethics, womb ethics. (for a potential co-sponsored session with the North American Religions Unit)
- “Reflecting on the Legacy: 50 years since the AAR Presidency of Charles H. Long” (a potential co-sponsored session with the Critical Theory and Discourse on Religion Unit)
Redressing the historiographical dearth of LGBTQI+ African American religious histories, specifically:
- The theoretical possibilities of “queering” African-American religion;
- The historical presence of gender nonconformity, gender fluidity, and a spectrum of sexualities and genders physically and conceptually within Black religious communities;
- The methodological and theoretical limitations of heteronormativity and gender normativity;
- The intersections of Black trans studies and African-American religions.
Retheorizations of the geographical and cultural boundaries of African-American Religion in relationship to the concept of the West and the Borderlands, specifically:
- Historic movement to, and practices of, African-American religions in the West and on the Borderlands of “America”;
- Interactions with and conversations about relationships with Indigenous communities and their religious practices in the West by Black religious practitioners;
- Afro-Spanish, Afro-Indigenous, and other intercultural religiosities;
- Concepts of space, the embodiment of space, and boundaries in African-American religion;
- Black religions among asylum seekers and within immigrant communities in America;
- The impact of immigration upon enactments and definitions of African-American religions.
Intellectual Trajectories in the Study of African-American Religion - Highlighting Graduate Student Work:
- Proposals for five to seven minute presentations of term papers, dissertation chapters drafts or other short pieces in development are especially welcome.
- The steering committee is open to configuring this session as a conversational space for works-in-progress with comments from a faculty member.
**Guidelines for successful/strong proposal submissions**
Successful proposals should:
1) respond directly to the call,
2) engage historical and interdisciplinary archival methods and name sources used or examined,
3) situate the intervention(s) in historiographical context by engaging relevant authors and key texts, but only as necessary, and
4) indicate time period and relevance to the field of African-American religious history.
We also invite creative proposals that are attentive to alternative methods of presenting, including but not limited to multimedia presentations, interviews, flash/micro talks, fireside chats, and facilitated discussions.
Statement of Purpose
Vaughn Booker, Dartmouth College1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Nicole Turner, Princeton University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
Steering Committee Members
Judith Casselberry, Bowdoin College1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
Matthew Cressler, College of Charleston1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Harvard University1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Jathan Martin, Yale University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
Laura McTighe, Florida State University1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Joseph Stuart, Brigham Young University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Alexia Williams, University of Illinois1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027