EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


The internationalisation of African-American religions

Location Biol B74
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Stefania Capone (CNRS/Université de Paris X, Nanterre) email
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Short Abstract

In the last decades African-American religions have become immensely popular and respectable beyond their original contexts. They are becoming transnational religions, crossing national, racial and class borders. The objective of the workshop is to explore the effects of this expansion.

Long Abstract

The field of Black Atlantic and African-American religions has changed substantially in the last decades. We could summarise these transformations in three points: firstly, from being secret and persecuted by the authorities, these religions have become public and respectable. In Latin American and African countries such as Brazil, Cuba and Benin they have become publicly recognised as culture, and their practitioners have acquired a new social status: from sorcerers they have become respectable intellectuals and artists with an international reputation. The result of this popularity is that many people from totally different social backgrounds are being initiated, many middle-class white intellectuals, and many foreigners, especially Europeans and North Americans, who are exporting these religions to their countries. Nowadays we can find Candomblé Santería practitioners in many countries of Europe. Is this growing international popularity changing the practices and values of these religions? Secondly, this international popularity has produced a growing interconnectedness between different local ritual traditions: Brazilians initiate Cubans into their complex processes of making saints, while Cubans or Nigerians initiate Brazilians in the secrets of Ifa. How are these ritual innovations reintegrated into the rigid ritual frames of these religions and their strong claims to authenticity and tradition? Thirdly, the growth of Pentecostal Christianity and its combative confrontation of traditional religions is challenging the local base of these religions. While they become internationally famous, their reputation in Brazil and Africa is being challenged by Pentecostal preachers who accuse them of Devil Worship. How are they reacting to these attacks? The ultimate objective of this workshop is to build a network which so far does not exist, bringing together scholars working in the field of Black Atlantic religions throughout Europe.

Chair: Stefania Capone and Roger Sansi Roca


Andei Pelo Mundo Andei: historical antecedents for the internationalisation of Afro-Brazilian religions

Author: Brian Brazeal (CSU, Chico)  email
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Long Abstract

The internationalization of African-American religions is not a new phenomenon. Candomblé, the foremost Afro-Brazilian religion was born in the crucible of the transatlantic slave trade. Its stock of powerful knowledge includes elements of European demonology learned from witches, heretics and gypsies degraded and deported from Portugal. Its Caboclo pantheon includes Italians and Hungarians alongside wild backland cowboys and Indians. Its Marujo pantheon sings of the seas between Brazil, Portugal and Africa. It was born in cosmopolitan cities that depended on international trade. It spread from the coast through the Bahian interior on steamships whose boilers were made in Britain and on railroads administered by French companies. The doctrines and rituals of the Ketu and Jeje Nations were consolidated in dialogue with the Lagosian Yoruba cultural renaissance and -Gbe-speaking traders who traveled between Bahia and the West Coast of Africa. If Candomblé's fame has spread to Europe and the United States today, it is because Candomblé's ritual lineages have a structural logic of expansion whereby practitioners seek out new clientele for their spiritual services and new initiates to grow their ritual families. This wave of expansion mirrors the processes by which Candomblé moved into the Bahian sertão and the industrial cities of the Brazilian South and entails similar transformation in religious beliefs and practices. This paper uses the concepts of fame, the transformation of value and the expansive logic of lineage segmentation to understand Candomblé's spread throughout Brazil and throughout the world.

The internationalization of Vodou in Haiti?

Author: Markel Thylefors (Göteborg University)  email
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Long Abstract

Markel Thylefors Ph.D. (Göteborg University) markel.thylefors@sant.gu.se

The paper explores some social aspects of new influences inciting religious and social change of the Vodou religion in contemporary Haiti. While Vodou has been portrayed as an example of religious dynamism; the last decades, however, have brought some new trends of change within in sectors of Haitian Vodou: e.g. the 2003 presidential decree officially recognizing Vodou as a religion, the formation of nationwide Vodou organizations with agendas of creating an institutional basis for Vodou and/or a Vodou Church with a common liturgy, as well as "anti-syncretistic" tentative. Such tendencies, the paper suggests, are influenced by global discourses on African-American religion.

Novel changes - or models for change - do not reach out to, or are embraced by, all of Haiti's Vodou practitioners. Nonetheless, as visible in the public sphere, they are most important for Vodou as a social fact in Haitian society at large.

The paper suggests that "big" Vodou priests, e.g. leaders of national Vodou organizations as well as local Vodou communities, are crucial for introducing initiatives for change. Such "big" Vodou priests have a high degree of Diaspora contacts, literacy, as well as the economic and cultural capital to interact with the official spheres of society (e.g. politicians, public servants, scholars, media). The argument is that the "big" Vodou priests bring new ideas and proposals of change to the ranks of poorer and less empowered Vodou practitioners through formal and informal networks. Conceivably, the influential, or "big," Vodou priests' international networks are important for bringing global discourse on African and African-American religion to Haiti. The very idea of phenomena such as formal and officially recognized Vodou organizations, anti-syncretism, or naming God as Olowoum, I propose, are largely of foreign import.

Even if the "big" Vodou priests are influential, they exercise no absolute power over their less well off peers and "big" priests are dependent on the support of their followers. Thus agency on the grass roots level should not be overlooked. A vital question is what will be the results be from the negotiations between "big" and other Vodou practitioners regarding future articula¬tions of Vodou? Will "elite" Vodou priests be successful in their attempts to introduce new organizational forms of Vodou, or ridding Vodou of its Folk-Catholic elements?

The paper is based on the findings from the first phase of the three year post-doctoral research project "The official recognition of Haitian Vodou: a Study in Social and Religious Change" (funded by Sida/Sarec), based at the Department of Social anthropology, Göteborg University, Sweden.

Keywords: Haiti, Vodou, change, official recognition, African-American religion, Diaspora connections.

Sorcery and culture: forms of appropriation in African-American religions

Author: Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona)  email
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Long Abstract

Sorcery and Culture: Forms of Appropriation in African-American religions

African-American religions are "international" by definition. But their diffusion, the forms of "appropriating the other", have substantially changed. Its current expansion throughout Europe and North America takes a consistently different pattern to the period of their formation throughout the Americas. Arguably, these religions were received in colonial societies as forms of "sorcery". This was one of the grounds for their repression, but also their main attractive for non- Africans, who became engaged in their ritual techniques for practical reasons. On the other hand, their current expansion responds to different causes: people join these religions following "spiritual" or "cultural" motivations. In this paper, I will propose that these different patterns of "internationalization", from "Sorcery" to "Culture", may have also produced fundamental changes in their practices and values.

Ritual 'innovation' and conflict in Havana (Cuba): some effects of Afro-Cuban religions' transnationalisation on the local religious field

Author: Emma Gobin (Labex CAP)  email
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Long Abstract

Nowadays, santería and Ifá, both of Yoruba origin, occupy a prestigious place in the afro-cuban religious field. The number of practitionners, foreigners as well as Cubans, is constantly increasing. During the XXth century, they spread to the rest of the American continent and more recently to Europe. This phenomenon has been studied in several countries (USA, Mexico, France, Spain, etc.) but it is also beginning to have repercussions on the Cuban original religious context. From an ethnographical perspective, this paper explores the effects of this transnationalization process in Havana. Indeed, the ritual and discursive practices taking place in the tricontinental context of what is now called « orisha religion » are directly influencing some local religious practices on the island. I will focus on the initiation of a foreign women in an exclusive masculine priesthood that took place in Havana two years ago. Realized by Cuban Ifá priests, this initiation has been the object of a violent controverse. The analysis of strategies of legitimacy and delegitimacy in stake in this conflict reveals that some Cuban practitionners « reafricanize » their own ritual system on the basis of intense exchanges with foreign practitionners, in this case principally from United-States. At the same time, it underlines that the transnational context in which Cubans religions are now evolving not only modifies the scale of local struggles for religious power and monopoly for legitim tradition but also exacerbates it.

African and Brazilian altars gathered in Lisbon

Author: Clara Saraiva (FLUL-University of Lisbon)  email
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Long Abstract

Some decades ago, Portugal became a destination for migrants, specially for brazilians and africans, these last ones basically coming from the former portuguese colonies. With these populations came their religions, therapeutical practices, rituals and spirits. Based on field work conducted in Lisbon with ritual specialists from Guinea-Bissau and Brazil, this paper specifically dwells on the issue of transnational spirits and the constuction of transnational religions which cross the Black Atlantic and gather in Lisbon. One of the main points is to analyse the relationship the portuguese population maintains with such cults, relatively new in the country, and how these views relate top the image they have of africans or brazilians

Towards a new African American religion ? The Akan movement in the United States

Author: Pauline Guedj (LESC (CNRS), Universite Paris X, Nanterre)  email
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Long Abstract

In 1965, Gus Dinizulu, an African American percussionist traveled to West africa with his dance company.In Ghana, he visited the Akonedi Shrine, a famous place of worship in the country, where he was introduced to the religion practiced in the shrine by its chief priestess, Nana Oparebea. Oparebea also performed for Dinizulu a divination during which she gave her host a new "African" name and identified who, she believed, were his enslaved Akan ancestors. Back to America, Dinizulu opened the first African American Akan shrine house and began to look for other worshippers, who, like him, would trace their ancestries to the Akan population of West Africa.

Today, in the U.S., the Akan religion is practiced by many African Americans spread all over the East Coast. Its existence lies on a serie of transnational networks linking Ghana to the New world.

While studying the connections and exchanges between the Akonedi Shrine and its American branches, this paper suggests that the Akan religion has grown into a new African American religion that practitioners use in order to search for their African roots. Nowadays, in the U.S., the Akan religion has then become a crucial practice within the African American religious field and deserves to be studied alongside santeria or the orisha religion.

Franchising the spiritual: authenticity and performance in American Umbanda

Author: Erika Robb (University of Wisconsin, Madison)  email
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Long Abstract

One of the consequences of globalization is that the Afro-Brazilian religious forms which have up until now been located only within the borders of Brazil are now migrating to new areas and attracting new participants. This paper explores the transnational movement of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Umbanda to the United States by examining several groups of practitioners in the US who are part of the same terreiro. Based on fieldwork in both Brazil and the United States, one part of my paper is more descriptive in nature and traces the contours of an emerging American Umbanda. Subsequent sections examine the challenges of deterritorialization and explore the issues of authenticity which arise as a result of transplantation into a new cultural milieu.

Afro-Brazilian Religions in Berlin - Practices of Intercultural Connectedness

Author: Christiane Pantke (Free University Berlin)  email
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Long Abstract

My research investigates the role played by the two Afro-Brazilian religions, Candomblé and Umbanda in the lives of female Brazilian immigrants in a multicultural Berlin. These transnational religions are important in shaping the identity of immigrants. Increasing global networking and demographic mobility means that social and gender relationships are now no longer limited to local-level interactions. New forms of social relationships and social cohesion are created whilst new social boundaries are also set. This leads to a shift in values as meanings and interpersonal relationships are changed, reconstructed and freshly experienced in a complex variety of ways. This paper addresses two key issues: what is the self-perception of female Brazilian immigrants in Berlin, and what role do Afro-Brazilian religions play in this context?

Umbandomblé or candombanda: ritual rearrangements in Parisian candomblé and umbanda

Author: Viola Teisenhoffer (LESC (CNRS) / Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)  email
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Long Abstract

Candomblé and umbanda have had an increasing popularity among French practitioners since the last decade. They find new devotees through networks anchored in the New Age movement, psychotherapists and artistic activities. In Paris, there are two well established religious groups which have close ties with their brazilian initiators. These ties are reaffirmed every year, when Brazilian religious leaders go to France in order to develop their French initiates' "mediumship" and when French practitioners travel to Brazil to undergo initiation. Due to particular ritual rearrangements, neither the Brazilian shrine houses, nor the French ones practice what we might call "classical" candomblé or umbanda. In the candomblé shrine house, rituals are simplified and mobilize many elements of umbanda, while the umbanda leader has integrated several elements of candomblé in his practice. These rearrangements show both leaders' desire to offer a large scale of spiritual services and to position themselves as overall specialists of Afro-Brazilian religions. This paper aims to show that this situation is in part the consequence of the particularities of the implantation of Afro-Brazilian religions in Paris and that it has an impact on how these leaders' practices may be legitimized in Brazil.