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Dianne M. StewartProfessor of Religion and of African American Studies

Dianne Marie Stewart is an associate 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 spent a number of years researching and writing Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage, which was published by Seal Press in 2020.  Intended to reach wide academic and public audiences, the book examines the structural forces that, across four centuries, have made coupling and marriage difficult, delayed or impossible for millions of Black women in the United States and reveals how White supremacy has systematically broken the heart of Black America.  Stewart’s public scholarship and interviews on the subject of Black love, partnership and marriage have also been published in Oprah Daily, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Dr. Stewart's third, book (part of a two-volume project with Dr. Tracey Hucks) will be published by Duke University Press in 2022.  Based upon six years of research in Trinidad and Tobago, including one consecutive year of residence, Obeah, Orisa and Religious Identity in Trinidad: Africana Nations and the Power of Black Sacred Imagination – Orisa, Volume II, provides a much needed historical and ethnographic account of African religions in Trinidad.  It specifically analyzes the Yoruba-Orisa religion 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, and the “sacred poetics” (Léon) of Black or Africana religious imagination. Dr. Stewart introduces readers to the spiritual mechanisms—myths, rituals, symbols and narratives, but also affects—that mobilize Black religious actors in their quest for authenticity and belonging. Among the tradition’s religious actors, she emphasizes the role of spiritual mothers whose womanist leadership and collective activism have helped to reposition Orisa from its location on the margins of society (folk religion) to its location alongside other religious traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam at the center of Trinidadian civil society.

Beyond her work in Trinidad and Jamaica, Dr. Stewart has studied and lectured in a number of 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.  Sponsored by the prestigious Emory College of Arts and Sciences Chronos Faculty Fellowship, Dr. Stewart will devote the 2021-2022 academic year to the completion of this book project.

In addition to the Chronos, Dr. Stewart has won other 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 and a Senior Fellowship at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry.  Among her service contributions Dr. Stewart is most proud of her leadership of Emory’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, an international initiative that aims to diversify the academy by helping students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to earn the 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.  Its most recent and forthcoming titles include Kincraft: The Making of Black Evangelical Sociality by Todne Thomas, Chosen Peoples: Christianity and Political Imagination in South Sudan and Embodying Black Religions in Africa and Its Diasporas, edited by Yolanda Covington-Ward and Jeanette Jouili (September 2021).

Courses

Recent Undergraduate Courses

  • Black Christian Thought
  • Black Women, Black Love and the Pursuit of Happiness
  • Black Love
  • African American Religion: African Religious Cultures in the Americas and the Caribbean
  • Global Black Feminisms/Womanisms: Epistemology, Spirituality & the Politics of Representation
  • African American Religion: Black Religions of Protest
  • African American Religion: The Black Church in the African American Experience

Recent Graduate Courses

  • New Directions in Africana Religious Studies
  • Comparative Africana Womanisms
  • African Religions in America: Knowledge, Place and Performance
  • Theoretical Issues in the Study of Black Religion: African Atlantic Religious Studies

Publications

Select Books/Articles/Essays

Three Eyes for the Journey:  African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience, Oxford University Press, 2005

Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage, Seal Press, 2020

“The Orisa House that Afro-Catholics Built: Africana Antecedents to Yoruba Religious Formation in Trinidad,” Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition, edited by Cécile Fromont, 140-162. Africana Religions Book Series, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019

Kumina: A Spiritual Vocabulary of Nationhood in Victorian Jamaica,” Victorian Jamaica, edited by Wayne Modest and Tim Barringer, 632-659. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018

“Rethinking Indigenous Africana Sources of Womanist-Feminist Activisms in the 21st Century,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion Vol. 7, Issue 1.4 (July 2016), 1-29

“Religious Pluralism and African American Theology,” The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology, edited by Katie Cannon and Anthony Pinn, 331-350. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014

“Matricentric Foundations of Africana Women’s Religious Practices of Peacemaking, Sustainability, and Social Change,” Bulletin of Ecumenical Theology Vol. 25 (2013): 61-79

“Africana Religious Studies: Toward a Transdisciplinary Agenda in an Emerging Field,” co-authored with Tracey E. Hucks in Journal of Africana Religions Vol. 1, no. 1 (January 2013): 28-77

“Visitation: The Legacy of African-Derived Religions in Jamaica,” Caribbean Cultural Thought: From Plantation to Diaspora, edited by Yanique Hume and Aaron Kamugisha, 509-553. Kingston: Ian Randle Press, 2013 (reprinted from Dianne M. Stewart, Three Eyes for the Journey, chapter four, 139-187)

“Las religiones heredadas del África central en el contexto jamaicano: Del Myal al Kúmina” Del Caribe Vol. 60 (2013): 44-54 (Translated by Dr. Carlos Lloga)

“Orisha Traditions in the West,” The Hope of Liberation in World Religions, edited by Miguel A. De La Torre, 239-256. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008

 “Collecting on Their Investments One Woman at a Time:  Economic Partnerships Among Caribbean Immigrant Women in the United States,” InternationalJournal of African RenaissanceStudies 2:1 (July 2007): 35-57

“Dancing Limbo:  Black Passages Through the Boundaries of Place, Race, Class, and Religion” in Deeper Shades of Purple:  Womanist Approaches in Religion and Society, edited by Stacey Floyd-Thomas, 82-97. New York:  NYU Press, 2006

“Indigenous Wisdom at Work in Jamaica:  The Power of Kumina,” Indigenous Peoples’ Wisdom and Power:  Affirming Our Knowledge Through Narratives, edited by Ivy Goduka and Julian Kunnie, 127-142. London:  Ashgate Publishers, 2006

“Women in African Caribbean Religious Traditions,” in Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, edited by Rosemary Skinner Kellar and Rosemary Radford Ruether, 116-126. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006

“African American Religion: History of Study” co-authored with Tracey E. Hucks in Encyclopedia of Religion, Volume 1, 2nd edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, 73-83. Detroit: Macmillan, 2005

“African-Derived Religions in Jamaica:  Polyvalent Repertoires of Culture and Identity in the Black Atlantic,” Contours:  A Journal of the African Diaspora 3:2 (Fall 2005): 74-112

“Authenticity and Authority in the shaping of Trinidad Orisha Identity: Toward an African-Derived Religious Theory,” co-authored with Tracey Hucks in Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 27, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 176-185

 

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Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience

 

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Black Women, Black Love: America's War on African American Marriage