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Ritual & Religious Resonances

The Middle Passage and racial enslavement constituted another temporality whose signature event was what Calvin Warren terms a “violent transubstantiation,” a process during which “Being lost integrity,” for “at that moment in history, it finally became possible for an aggressive metaphysics to exercise obscene power—the ability to turn a ‘human’ into a commodified ‘thing.’”[1] The untenability of this re-created otherness has been inescapable for its victims, compelling the simultaneous appearance of Black religion—the power to recreate Black communities through processes of dehistoricization internal to and beyond Black communities or, as Frantz Fanon felicitously phrases it, through “introducing invention into existence.”[2]

To deal with the trauma of desecration and the task of re-creation, Black religion appeared as a mechanism of critique and renunciation, a mechanism for re-fashioning Blackness. By nature, Black religion then is an ordering of symbols whose opacity gives rise to thoughts, articulations, meanings, actions, and orientations beyond decipherable registers that allow for the transparency of knowledge. Atlantic African captives and their descendants in the Western Hemisphere have always turned to Old and New World Africana sacred symbols and spiritual resources to undertake the creative work required to exit the ontological trap of colonial Blackness and to perform the sacred poetics of establishing recreated origins and new modes of belonging. Their religious imagination, rituals, and spiritual technologies have been rich sites and resources for contending with the terror of slavery and resisting spiritual death in the afterlife of slavery.

This session will engage in the critical study of Africana sacred poetics to understand how “religious actors…manage the often harsh and potentially overwhelming conditions they confront—the battle for survival and more, dignity, love, freedom—by deploying the most powerful weapons in their arsenal: signs, myths, rituals, narratives, and symbols.”[3] It begins by acknowledging that Black religious imagination and religious cultures—both institutional and non-institutional—reside in the tension between primordial beginnings and Black abjection.


[1] Calvin Warren, “Black Nihilism and the Politics of Hope,” CR: The New Centennial Review 15, no. 1 (2015): 237.

[2] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 229.

[3] Luis León, La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.–Mexican Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 5.