Friday, August 26th



Ph.D. – University of Chicago, 2009

Specialty: Religion, ritual and festival in the African Diaspora; cultural citizenship; decolonization; representation and identity; Anglophone-Caribbean

Current Research Projects: My book, “Sacred Imaginaries: Performing Citizenship, Decolonizing Blackness,” explores an emerging transnational cultural citizenship as a critical practice of decolonization.  I argue that in Trinidad members of the Orisha/Ifá religion draw on alternative epistemologies to engage in processes of decolonization by redefining conceptions of blackness and Africanness.  Based on fifteen years of extended and in-depth ethnography, my research (funded by grants from Fulbright-Hays and Wenner-Gren) found that Orisha practitioners are engaging the nation from subjectivities informed by spiritual praxis that incorporates divination and possession as privileged knowledge forms.  Questions central to my work include: Will emergent forms of cultural citizenship informed by a spiritual epistemology that revalorizes categories of Africanness and blackness form the basis for positive change toward social equality?  How do Orisha practitioners negotiate belonging to community, nation, and larger global networks? I explore how Afro-Trinidadians negotiate the complex dynamics of race, gender, class, color, and status that emerges from both a colonial legacy and contemporary neo-liberal modernity through religion, spirituality, and ritual performance.  In doing so, I follow M. Jacqui Alexander’s call for an investigation of spiritual epistemologies and have found that when this sacred knowledge engages social and political collectivity it informs a sacred imaginary.  In Trinidad I locate this sacred imaginary at the intersections of national belonging and a spiritual knowledge informed by divination, dreams, possession, and other forms of divine communication.

My next project, “Centering and Decentering Africa in Ifá,” examines the interplay between blackness and Africanness, race and ethnicity, in the circulation between the “diaspora” and the “continent” that is a hallmark of the transnational Yoruba religion.  I will examine the impact of visiting practitioners and priests on the “traditional” (local term) religion in Yorubaland.  I am curious about the tensions of identity, authority and authenticity as they intersect with sacred knowledge transmission (initiations and trainings) and spiritual economies.  On a broader level I ask, What does it mean when the diaspora comes home? How does blackness (or its absence) meet Africanness?  My preliminary research this past summer in Nigeria indicates that the return of diasporic practitioners is reconfiguring local valuations of “traditional” religion, power relations and identifications of Oyinbo (foreigner; white person).  Alternatively, how do visits to Yorubaland challenge, inform and shape racial identifications and ethnic constructions?  What does it mean for a devotee from Mexico, phenotypically white while ethnically Hispanic, to be recast as Yoruba through their initiation into Ifá in Lagos, Nigeria?  In exploring similar questions I will map the impact of specific localities and subjects meeting within the broader context of transnational spiritual community to illuminate the impact points, tensions, and synergies where the diaspora meets the homeland.

Courses Taught:
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Introduction to Africana Studies
Global Africana Popular Culture
Africana Religions
Africana Studies Gateway: Issues in Africana Studies
Cultural Politics in the African Diaspora

Current Graduate Students: Myeshia Babers

Representative Publications:

Castor, N. Fadeke (2013) "Shifting Multicultural Citizenship: Trinidad Orisha Opens the Road." Cultural Anthropology 28(3):475-489.