Black Spirit Matters

Dr. Castor’s second book project will be an ethnographically grounded and historically informed study of the intersection of social justice movements, including Black Lives Matter and African diasporic religions. Black Spirits Matter (BSM) will extend from her previous work on emerging spiritual citizenship to look at spiritual citizenship in action. BSM will explore how spiritual citizenship manifests in African diaspora religions through social justice and activism. The larger frame of analysis focuses on the transformative and liberatory work, which emerges out of these religions. BSM investigates African diasporic religions in America (and as they touch down in West Africa) to explore formations of transnational spiritual community and their shared vision of the “good” and the “just.”

Diaspora Comes Home

What does it mean when the diaspora comes home? How does blackness (or its absence) meet Africanness? “Diaspora Comes Home”, explores these questions through a study of the spiritual circuit of priests between the “diaspora” and the “continent” that is a hallmark of the transnational Yorùbá religion (cf. Matory).In this project Dr. Castor looks at the production and performance of racial and ethnic identities in the circulation of spiritual practitioners, ideas, performances, and ritual. Preliminary research in Nigeria (Summer 2013) indicated that the return of diasporic practitioners is reconfiguring local valuations of “traditional” religion, power relations and identifications of oyinbo (foreigner; white person). In her upcoming research she will continue to examine the impact of visiting practitioners and priests on the “traditional” (local term) religion in Yorùbáland, Nigeria. Her interests are in the tensions of identity, authority and authenticity as they intersect with sacred knowledge transmission (initiations and trainings) and spiritual economies.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942, 143).

Spiritual Citizenship

In Spiritual Citizenship N. Fadeke Castor employs the titular concept to illuminate how Ifá/Orisha practices informed by Yoruba cosmology shape local, national, and transnational belonging in African diasporic communities in Trinidad and beyond. Drawing on almost two decades of fieldwork in Trinidad, Castor outlines how the political activism and social upheaval of the 1970s set the stage for African diasporic religions to enter mainstream Trinidadian society. She establishes how the postcolonial performance of Ifá/Orisha practices in Trinidad fosters a sense of belonging that invigorates its practitioners to work toward freedom, equality, and social justice. Demonstrating how spirituality is inextricable from the political project of black liberation, Castor illustrates the ways in which Ifá/Orisha beliefs and practices offer Trinidadians the means to strengthen belonging throughout the diaspora, access past generations, heal historical wounds, and envision a decolonial future.

Shifting Multicultural Citizenship

The political sponsorship of the Orisha religion by Trinidad’s first Indian Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday (1995–2001), reveals the dynamics and tensions between black cultural citizenship and multicultural citizenship. How do multiple cultural citizenships intersect? Specifically, in Trinidad what is the role of black cultural citizenship within a national multicultural frame where African and Indian descendants represent two roughly equal majority minority populations? The concept of cultural citizenship is challenged by the tension between Indo-Trinidadian cultural citizenship and Afro-Trinidadian cultural citizenship. Panday’s sponsorship was critical to the granting of state concessions (from land grants to a national holiday) that facilitated the Orisha religion’s movement from the margins to the mainstream in Trinidad’s public culture. This in turn has served as the foundation for an emergent black cultural citizenship centered on the Orisha religion and revalorizations of Africanness and blackness. At the same time the multicultural rhetoric shifted to open space for Indo-Trinidadian contributions to national culture. Ultimately, this article asks questions that illuminate tensions between cultural citizenship, religion, and multiculturalism within the framework of the African diaspora.

Shifting multicultural citizenship: Trinidad Orisha opens the road.Cultural Anthropology 28(3) 475-489.