Top of page
Skip to main content
Main content

Dianne StewartProfessor of Religion & African American Studies

Dianne Marie Stewart is a 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 research 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.  Dr. Stewart’s public scholarship and interviews on the subject of Black love, partnership and marriage have also been published in Oprah DailyThe 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, 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 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.