Part Two Comparison and Reconceptualizing ‘Black Atlantic Religions’  (1:50-2:40 p.m.)

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Paul Christopher Johnson - University of Michigan - Department of History and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies


Kathryn Lofton - Yale University, LGBT Studies, Religious Studies & American Studies

Paul Christopher Johnson

Comparison and Reconceptualizing ‘Black Atlantic Religions’” 

In this section we can highlight at least four productively fuzzy issues on comparison: First, is it clear that “Black Religion” is the right, or most productive, category? How is it like or unlike “Black Atlantic” religions, or “African Diaspora” religions? How do words like “Black,” “Atlantic,” and “Diaspora” variously push comparison in slightly different directions, and with what kinds of consequences? Second, all of these clusters at least attempt to raise comparative issues related to race and religion, and by extension, questions of “religion” and power, and the ways classifications of religion extend toward and intersect with other kinds of classifications of people. We might ask comparative questions about the specific religion-race linkage: What kinds of social dynamics, power differentials and institutions does/has it helped to produce, in comparison with other religion--______ hybrids? Is the semiotic bundling of religion and race into relative durable social forms comparatively more pernicious and dangerous than other forms of bundling or clustering, and for that reason of our special attention? Third, it seems clear that “theoretical geographies” or “geographies of theory” are in play in our comparative study of religion. That is, certain regions and peoples become especially associated with specific issues or ‘problems.’ For example, for those categorized under the rubric of “Black Religion", the issues of syncretism and spirit possession have been powerfully foregrounded. Why? How, for example, did “spirit possession” work differently for the classical West (as David Frankfurter discusses) and for the early modern and modern Africa and African Americas? Does its tenor shift when applied with a more narrow or broad aperture: when it includes the temple of ancient Delphi and contemporary Vodou in Montreal, versus when it is applied to more restricted comparisons, say between Haitian Vodou and Brazilian Candomblé. Fourth and finally, what comparative issues have the religions of the African Americas and the Caribbean ‘put on the map’ for the broader study of religion?

Suggested Reading for Paul Christopher Johnson.

Johnson, Paul Christopher. 2011. “An Atlantic Genealogy of “Spirit Possession”” Comparative Studies in Society and History 53, 2: 393-425. (Attached below)

Palmié, Stephan. 2013. “BL2532.S3 or, How Not to Study “Afro”-“Cuban” “Religion”, in Palmié, The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion, 1-32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

J. Lorand Matory. 2009."The Many Who Dance in Me: Afro-Atlantic Ontology and the Problem with 'Transnationalism'", in Transnational Transcendence, Essays on Religion and Globalization, edited by Thomas J, Csordas, 231-262. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sarró, Ramon, and Ruy Llera Blanes. 2009. “Prophetic Diasporas: Moving Religion Across the Lusophone Atlantic.African Diaspora 2: 52-72.

Further Readings for Paul Christopher Johnson.

Painter, Nell Irvin. 2010. The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton.

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