African Heritage Traditions in the Diaspora: An Introduction – Dr. Tracey Hucks and Dr. Dianne M. Stewart

Thursday, March 2, 2023 from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EST

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This presentation will offer an introduction to African heritage traditions and their long legacy within the Americas and the Caribbean. Although they share many features with all the major world religions, within the context of slavery and its aftermath, African heritage traditions have experienced an extensive history of violent repression, legal criminalization, and colonial persecution. Hucks and Stewart will provide an overview of the salient features of African heritage traditions; their uses for spiritual defense and healing; their connection to diaspora movements of ancestral reclamation; and the contemporary phenomena of white participation and presence within them.

Tracey Hucks is a nationally known and esteemed scholar of Africana Studies and American Religious History. She has served most recently as Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Colgate University where she has been James A. Storing Professor of Religion and Africana and Latin American Studies. Hucks previously taught at Davidson College, where she was the James D. Vail III Professor and chair of the Africana Studies Department, and at Haverford College. In 1995, she was a resident graduate scholar at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria. A graduate of Colgate University, she earned her AM and PhD from Harvard University in 1998. 

Hucks is the author of Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism, which was published in 2012 and was a finalist for the American Academy of Religion First Book Award and the Journal of Africana Religions Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize. Hucks is currently at work on several book projects, including, Obeah, Orisa and Religious Identity in Trinidad: Volume One: Africans in the White Colonial Imagination  which was published in October 2022 by Duke University Press. Working with Dr. Dianne Stewart, (Emory University) who authored Volume Two, the two-volume study theorizes the prominent role of Africana religious cultures in the shaping of diaspora identities. Hucks has conducted research in several countries, including Brazil, Cuba, Nigeria, England, France, Trinidad, Jamaica, Kenya, and Tanzania. In addition to her numerous awards, fellowships, and distinctions, she was also an elected member of the Program Committee of the American Academy of Religion, elected member of the Executive Committee of the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and is currently a member of the Corporation of Haverford College.

Dianne Marie Stewart is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University, specializing in African heritage religious cultures in the Caribbean and the Americas. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Hartford, CT, USA.  She obtained her B.A. degree from Colgate University in English and African American Studies, her M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School, and her Ph.D. degree in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she studied with well-known scholars such as Delores Williams, James Washington and her advisor James Cone. Dr. Stewart joined Emory’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and teaches courses in the graduate and undergraduate programs.

Dr. Stewart’s research and teaching interests cover a wide range of topics under the umbrella of Africana religions with attention to religious thought and practices of African-descended people in the Anglophone Caribbean and the United States; womanist approaches to religion and society; theory and method in Africana religious studies; and the impact of African civilizations upon religious formation in the African diaspora. Dr. Stewart’s first monograph, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (Oxford University Press, 2005), offers a historically and ethnographically grounded theological analysis of the motif of liberation in Jamaica’s African heritage religious cultures from the 18th to the 21st century.

Inspired by her pedagogical investment in Black love studies and her widely celebrated courses, The Power of Black Self-Love, (co-taught with Dr. Donna Troka), Black Love and Black Women, Black Love and the Pursuit of Happiness, Dr. Stewart published Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press in 2020) to inspire a new national conversation about love in the African American experience.  Her public scholarship and interviews on the subject of Black love, partnership and marriage have also been published in The Washington PostOprah Daily and disseminated through prominent media outlets such as APM’s Marketplace, KBLA Talk’s Tavis SmileyEbonyTheGrio, The Root and WGBH’s Basic Black.

Dr. Stewart’s third monograph (Duke University Press, 2022) is part of a two-volume project with Dr. Tracey Hucks.  Obeah, Orisa and Religious Identity in Trinidad, Volume II, Orisa: Africana Nations and the Power of Black Sacred Imagination, examines the Yoruba-Orisa religious culture as a meaning-making tradition in the afterlives of slavery and colonialism with attention to the affective mode of religious apprehension, the salience of Africa as a religious symbol, the sacred poetics of Black/Africana religious imagination and the prominence of Africana nations in projects of Black belonging and identity formation in Trinidad and the wider African diaspora. In so doing, the book emphasizes how Orisa spiritual mothers’ leadership and collective activism have helped to resituate their tradition from its location on the margins of society (folk religion) to its position alongside other religious traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam at the center of civil society.

Beyond her work in Trinidad and Jamaica, Dr. Stewart has studied and lectured in several African, Latin American, and Caribbean countries, including Nigeria, The Benin Republic, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bermuda.  She spent a year and a half conducting archival and field research as a Fulbright Scholar in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she focused on the history of religions in Central Africa during the slave period and prophetic religious movements in Congo today.  Her current book project, Local and Transnational Legacies of African Christianity in West-Central Africa and the Black Atlantic World, builds upon this research to explore how 18th-century Kongolese Catholicism inspired the formation of Afro-Protestant institutions among African descendants in the wider 18th– and 19th-century Atlantic world.  From the southeastern coastal Afro-Methodist/Baptist traveling and seeking rites to the rise of cognate Native Baptist, Revival Zion, and Spiritual Baptist traditions in Jamaica and Trinidad, the book demonstrates how a Kongo Christian heritage lent central ingredients to this African Atlantic terrain of religious exchange and innovation.

Dr. Stewart has won several awards and fellowships over her career at Emory, including the Emory Williams Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, Emory College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Advising Award, Emory University Laney Graduate School’s Eleanor Main Graduate Faculty Mentor Award, a Senior Fellowship at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry and an Emory College of Arts and Sciences Chronos Faculty Fellowship.  Among her service contributions, Dr. Stewart is most proud of her leadership of Emory’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. This international initiative aims to diversify the academy by helping students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to earn a Ph.D. degree and secure teaching positions at tertiary institutions across the United States and South Africa.  Dr. Stewart has also served on several committees within the American Academy of Religion, and she is a founding co-editor, with Drs. Jacob Olupona and Terrence Johnson, of the Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People series at Duke University Press.  Among its most recent titles are Kincraft: The Making of Black Evangelical Sociality by Todne Thomas, Chosen Peoples: Christianity and Political Imagination in South Sudan by Christopher Tounsel, and Rage and Carnage in the Name of God by Abiodun Alao.

In addition to their many publications, they have collaborated on the monograph, Obeah, Orisa and Religious Identity in Trinidad — Tracey wrote volume I (Obeah) and Dianne wrote volume II (Orisa).

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