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Inter-Religious Engagement and the Erasure of African* Religiousity

March 20, 2018

In my experience, conversations about "Inter-religious engagement" often draw connections between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism but ignore/erase/marginalize African/African-Diasporic/Creole religions like Santería, Espiritismo, Yoruba, and Voodoo. I wonder what perpetuates this lack of engagement with African* religions in "inter-religious engagement." Is it colonial history that made Islam/Buddhism intelligible to westerners? Anti-blackness? Ignorance? The epistemological shift these faiths require of westerners?

 

 

 

Similarly, it's often been my experience that "inter-cultural engagement" (even, at times, "cultural studies") often don't discuss religion. But culture is shaped by religion and vice-versa. In the Caribbean, for example, African-religions have so deeply shaped culture that to speak about Caribbean culture without referencing religion is to miss the epistemological, social, and moral ideals that undergird cultural expressions. Take Puerto Rico where we can draw connections between the cultural significance of holidays, the role of Catholic feast days in popular Catholicism, and creole African* religious practices that connect spirits, rituals, and the material world. Or take the beats that create the base rhythms in Cuban and Puerto Rican Salsa and how they come from our African ancestors who prayed to the spirits and ancestors not through words but through drums, surviving the middle passage with music.

 

One can't understand Caribbean culture without understanding Caribbean religious expression. But I would contest this is true in all contexts. Religion permeates cultural expression and vice versa, making inter-religious and inter-cultural engagement dependent on one another. Which, returning to my original point, makes me wonder why in my experience "inter-religious engagement" so often excludes African/African-Diasporic/Creole religions.

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