Women and Religion in the African Diaspora

Project Description:
With the generous support of the Ford Foundation, in 2000 the Center launched an initiative in Religion, Race, and Gender. The planning grant was used to host meetings on the topic, bring guest lecturers to campus, and support a postdoctoral fellow, Marla Frederick, who spent a year at Princeton writing a book about contemporary African-American women’s spirituality and social/political activism in the South (published as Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith in 2003 by the University of California Press). Through this program of activities, we began working intently to institutionalize race and gender as key categories of analysis in all the programs that the Center will sponsor in the future.

Drawing on the consultations, symposium, on-campus meetings, and post-doctoral recruitment process, we developed a strong program of activities that focus especially around the methodological implications of bringing race, gender, ethnicity, and related analytic categories more intentionally into the study of religion. The result of this planning process was a three-year project on Women and Religion in the African Diaspora, funded by the Ford Foundation. Over three years (2001-2004), we brought several Visiting Research Fellows to the Center to pursue full-time research and writing on a specific project pertaining to the racial and gendered aspects of religion. We also sponsored a number of public events (lectures, symposia, and conferences) on topics concerned with the intersections among religion, women, and people of color in the Diaspora. Additionally, we sponsored various curricular initiatives to support research and teaching in this area, including freshman seminars, graduate research grants, and junior and senior research grants.

The largest component of the Women and Religion in the African Diaspora Project was a collaborative research group. A gathering of junior and senior scholars who work in the area of religion, race, and gender in key parts of the African Diaspora met annually over the three years of this granting period. The meeting during the third year consisted of a public conference on the same theme, where this same group of scholars presented the fruits of their research and benefited from outside commentary. Members of this collaborative research group include Wallace Best, Anthea Butler, Lisa Gail Collins, Deidre Crumbley, Marla Frederick, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Rachel Harding, Tracey Hucks, Martha Jones, Isabel Mukonyora, Carolyn Rouse, and Judith Weisenfeld. The research team is being coordinated by Barbara Savage, University of Pennsylvania and author of Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (University of North Carolina Press), and Marie Griffith, Princeton University, author of God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission, and Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity. Professors Savage and Griffith are also preparing and co-editing the papers from the final conference for publication in a final volume.

Past Events:

Conference on Women and Religion in the African Diaspora, April 23-24, 2004. Keynote speaker Brent Edwards (Rutgers University), and featuring the Women and Religion in the African Diaspora Project collaborative research group.

Public Lecture by Jacob K. Olupona, Director of the Program in African American and African Studies and Professor of Religion at the University of California at Davis and author of Religion, Kingship, and Rituals in a Nigerian Community, as well as editor of African Traditional Religions in Contemporary Society. Title: “Imagining the Power of the Goddess: Gender in Yoruba Religious Traditions and Modernity.” The lecture will respond to the strong disagreement between Oyeronke Oyewumi and J. Lorand Matory about what gender means in Yoruba traditions. November 12, 2002, 4:30 PM, Room 28 McCosh Hall.

Public Lecture by Darlene Clark Hine, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of American History at Michigan State University and author of Hine Sight: Black Women and the Re-Construction of American History as well as editor of numerous books that include Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia and Crossing Boundaries: Comparative History of Black People in Diaspora. Title: “Healing the Body, Mind and Soul: Dr. Matilda A. Evans of South Carolina, 1874-1935.” March 6, 2003, 4:30 PM, Room 28 McCosh Hall.

Public Lecture by Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan College: “Vodou Spirits, Rara Queens and Small Men: Gender, Vulgarity and Slavery in Afro-Creole Religion.” Respondent: Joan Dayan, Univeristy of Pennsylvania, author of Haiti, History, and the Gods (University of California Press, 1995). The lecture addressed themes from Professor McAlister’s book and CD, addressing her new book, Rara: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora (University of California Press, 2002). April 24, 2002, 4:30 PM, Frist Campus Center #302.

Symposium, February 22, 2002: “Purity, Power, and Praise: Revisioning Women’s Religious Roles in Africa and the African Diaspora.” 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, Whig Hall, Princeton University campus. Reception following.

Symposium, February 20, 2001: “What Shall We Do with These Proverbs? Black Women’s Spiritual Narratives in Africa and the Diaspora.” 3:30 – 6 p.m., in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall, Princeton University campus. This symposium featured: Mercy Amba Oduyoye (Trinity Theological College, Ghana), author of Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy; Joycelyn Moody (University of Washington), author of Sentimental Confessions: Spiritual Narratives of Nineteenth-Century African American Women; and Carolyn Rouse (Princeton University), author of Engaged Surrender: Women’s Ambivalence and Empowerment in African American Islam.