Tag Archive for African American Studies

McAlister Authors New Paper on the Militarization of Prayer in America

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister is the author of a new paper, “The Militarization of Prayer in America: White and Native American Spiritual Warfare” published Jan. 4 in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice.

In the article, McAlister examines how militarism has come to be one of the generative forces of the prayer practices of millions of Christians across the globe. She focuses on the articulation between militarization and aggressive forms of prayer, especially the evangelical warfare prayer developed by North Americans since the 1980s. Against the backdrop of the rise in military spending and neoliberal economic policies, spiritual warfare evangelicals have taken on the project of defending the United States on the “spiritual” plane. They have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork at an intensive spiritual warfare boot camp organized by a group of Native Americans who have founded a training base in Oklahoma dedicated to training recruits in the theology and practical strategy of spiritual warfare.

Despite their hyper-aggressive rhetorical and ideological stance, members of this network in fact practice self-sacrificial rituals of fasting, holiness and submission to the Holy Spirit. Native prayer warriors are using spiritual warfare prayer to assert a privileged place for themselves in Christian life as heirs of God’s authority over the stewardship of North American land and as central to the project of repairing sinful pasts both on and off the reservations, reconciling present racial conflict, and defending the land in spiritual battle against new immigrant invasions by foreign, demonic forces.

McAlister also is professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Elizabeth McAlister on the State of Vodou in Haiti Today

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister spoke to The Guardian about the state of the Vodou religion in Haiti today.

“Most Americans don’t know that they don’t know what Vodou really is,” said McAlister, who specializes in Haitian Vodou.

The article describes the actual practice of Vodou, and discusses its critical place in Haiti’s history as the first black republic. And turning to McAlister for her expertise, it addresses Vodou’s stance on homosexuality.

“Many, many gays and lesbians are valued members of Vodou societies,” explains McAlister, who has devoted years to researching LGBT in Haitian religion. “There is an idea that Vodou spirits that are thought to be gay ‘adopt’ and protect young adults who then become gay.”

“Vodou ‘does gender’ totally differently than the Christian tradition,” McAlister explains. After all, Vodou has gender fluidity at the core: men might become mediums for female spirits, women for male spirits. “But Christians, especially evangelicals, have zero flexibility for this; they see homosexuality as a sin, period.”

Stigmatized as a primitive, or even wicked religion, Vodou is inherently progressive and inclusive, McAlister continues.

“Vodou tends to be radically unjudgmental,” she explains. “The alcoholic, the thief, the homeless, the mentally ill, all of these people are welcomed into a Vodou temple and given respect.”

In reality, McAlister emphasizes, Vodou is far more similar to a close-knit church community than most Americans could ever imagine.

McAlister is also professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of Latin American studies.

Collaborative Cluster Provides Perspectives in Dance, Music, English, African American Studies

Faculty Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown,  Nicole Stanton, and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching the new Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar.

Faculty Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown, Nicole Stanton, and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching the new Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar. The cluster enables faculty to develop a shared research project with a unifying theme. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
This year, four Wesleyan faculty are coordinating a year-long interdisciplinary project that enables students from an array of majors and academic disciplines to collaborate, create and work together as a learning community under the theme “Renaissance Projects: Reclaiming Memory, Movement and Migration.”

The Collaborative Clusters Initiative of the Allbritton Center enables faculty from a variety of departments and programs to develop a shared research project with a unifying theme. Cluster courses in 2015-16 provide perspectives from dance, music, English, and African American studies on the ways performance practices have engaged the past and present in the face of great migrations. The collaborative project is rooted in a multi-faceted conception of renaissance, and explores states of past and present, of vitality and decay, and of presence and absence.

Students, in collaboration with peers, faculty and visiting artist/scholars, develop original research in writing, performance or visual art around the cluster theme.

This year, faculty members Nicole Stanton, Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown,  and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching courses in the Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar.

Bria Grant ’17, an African American studies and dance double major, was ecstatic to take classes in the new cluster because it addressed both her interest in the arts and black people in America in one initiative. She’s enrolled in Stanton’s and Hoggard’s class this fall.

“The discussions we have each week, coupled with the nurturing aspect of breaking bread and eating dinner together, create a familial and intellectual space that both comforts and stimulates my mind simultaneously,” Grant said. “Furthermore, the research seminar itself gives me the space to immerse myself within the subject matter in a way I personally see fit, and explore specific aspects without the heavy burden of a strict curriculum.”

McAlister Speaks on American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, spoke at DePaul University on May 11. The topic of her talk was “American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare and Vodou in Haiti.”

According to the flyer for the talk, one strand of American evangelicalism practices so-called “spiritual warfare” in which Christian “prayer warriors” pray against “territorial strongholds.” This group believes the world to be mapped into either Christian or demonic space, where Satanic forces operate as “strongholds” of evil. They believe that Haiti is under the influence of Satan. McAlister draws on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti to examine how American missionaries are waging spiritual warfare on the traditional Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou, and how some Haitian Vodou practitioners are responding, paradoxically, by adopting evangelical modes of prayer, publicity and self-presentation.

Back in January, McAlister spoke on “The Militarization of American Prayer” at the Social Science Research Council.

Youth, Business, Healthcare Discussed at Africa Innovation Summit

Wesleyan's African Students Association hosted an Africa Innovation Summit Nov. 7 in Daniel Family Commons.

Wesleyan’s African Students Association hosted an Africa Innovation Summit Nov. 7 in Daniel Family Commons.

Hirut Mcleod ’00, a management consultant at The World Bank, delivered the keynote address. Mcleod has experience coaching leaders at all levels in Africam Asian and the Balkan region. She served as elected alumna trustee of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees from 2012-2014.

Hirut Mcleod ’00, a management consultant at The World Bank, delivered the keynote address. Mcleod has experience coaching leaders at all levels in Africam Asian and the Balkan region. She served as elected alumna trustee of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees from 2012-2014.

Ulysse Writes Article about Artist Bill Traylor, a Former Slave

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of African America studies, wrote an article, “Presumed Innocent: On Bill Traylor’s Verve,” which appeared on the website Anthropology Now. Ulysse reflects on an exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum by Bill Traylor, a former slave who began drawing at the age of 85, and produced his entire body of work in three years.

Ulysse Writes Exhibit Review of Contemporary Black Women Portraits

Gina Athena Ulysse

Gina Athena Ulysse

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of African American studies, wrote a review of artist Robert Pruitt’s Women, currently on exhibit at the Studio Museum of Harlem, in the Huffington Post. The exhibit features 20 portraits of contemporary black women drawn on brown butcher paper with conté-crayons.

Ulysse writes: “Although, Pruitt’s Women may be warriors, they are not embattled. They may be of and in struggle, yet they are not fighting. Their serenity is too often denied to black women. They are ‘keepin’ it surreal’ inhabiting Suzanne Césaire’s state of permanent readiness for the Marvelous.”

Americas Forum to Focus on Artist, Poet Aimé Césaire April 5-6

"The Centenary of Aimé Césaire 1913-2008: Poet, Pragmatist, a Voice for the Voiceless" is the theme of the 2013 Americas Forum April 5-6.

“The Centenary of Aimé Césaire 1913-2008: Poet, Pragmatist, a Voice for the Voiceless” is the theme of the 2013 Americas Forum April 5-6.

For its 2013 Americas Forum, Wesleyan’s Center for the Americas is commemorating the centenary of Aimé Césaire, éminence grise of the Francophone Caribbean. Taking place on April 5-6 at Russell House, the annual symposium brings scholars and artists from “north” and “south” into dialogue about Césaire, who was not only a regional figure but also a global presence as an intellectual, poet, artist and politician.

Celebrating his influential life, spanning from the movements of Surrealism and Negritude to his ideas on decolonization and spiritual and cultural pan-Africanism, the Americas Forum is also an intellectual consideration of Césaire’s contributions to our understanding of the Americas, Marxism, imperialism, independence, race and the role of art.

This year’s event, which is free and open to the public, is organized by Indira Karamcheti, director of the Center for the Americas and associate professor of American studies; Typhaine Leservot, associate professor of romance languages and literatures and the College of Letters; and Suzanna Tamminen, director of the Wesleyan University Press. Scholars will represent the fields of Caribbean studies, French literature and poetics, Césaire studies, American studies, and African diaspora studies, with musicians, poets, and performers presenting both their own and Césaire’s work.

All talks take place in the Russell House.

After a welcome at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 5, Clayton Eshleman, professor emeritus of poetry and literature at Eastern Michigan University; A. James Arnold, professor emeritus of French at the University of Virginia;

Assisted by Fellowship, Wright Reveals Black Agendas in GOP

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant worth $31,500 from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her her current book project.

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her current book project.

On a chilly January morning in 1978, Jesse Jackson delivered a rousing keynote address to a large group of political leaders. Energized from a recent meeting with President Jimmy Carter at the White House, the civil rights activist dazzled his audience with nearly an hour of political “gospel rock.” At the end of Jackson’s fiery speech, his audience launched a five-minute standing ovation. Oddly, his audience was a group of white Republicans.

Why would a liberal civil rights activist – with ties to the Democratic Party – engage a political party that had a reputation for turning its back on the black interests? Jackson wasn’t alone. Throughout the modern postwar period, a number of black Americans worked with and within the GOP to influence the direction of the party. And in the past two decades, America has witnessed a surprising number of high-profile black Republicans including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, J.C. Watts and Herman Cain.

“The extensive literature on the histories of civil rights and American politics suggests, in no uncertain terms, that African Americans have no business being conservative,” says Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history.

As a recent recipient of a Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, is working to revise a historical blind spot by demonstrating that black Americans have worked consistently with Republicans to pursue an agenda of racial uplift.

The Career Enhancement Fellowships for Junior Faculty Program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, supports junior faculty who have a demonstrated commitment to eradicating racial disparities,

Brown Panelist at National Youth Summit on Abolition

Lois Brown

Lois Brown

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted the National Youth Summit on Abolition on Feb. 11.

Lois Brown, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of African American Studies and English, joined a team of experts, scholars and activists in a moderated panel discussion to reflect upon the abolition movement of the 19th century and explore its legacy on modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

The event was webcast live to more than 2,000 students and adults from 31 states and to schools in Kenya, Pakistan and the Republic of Suriname in South America.

The program featured excerpts from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary The Abolitionists, which weaves together the stories of five of the abolition movement’s leading figures: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown. Lois Brown was on the film’s advisory board.

Brown’s fellow panelists included Kenneth Morris, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation and the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington; Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large in the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and Ana Alarcon, a high school student in Hartford, Conn., who is president of the organization Student Abolitionists Stopping Slavery. Allison Stewart, an award-winning journalist, moderated the event.

The National Youth Summit on Abolition will be broadcast live to students and adults all over the world.

The National Youth Summit on Abolition will be broadcast live on Feb. 11.

Brown, whose teaching and research focuses on 19th Century African American and American literature, history, and culture, as well as and race and memory in colonial and antebellum America, is the author of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution and The Harlem Literary Renaissance: An Encyclopedia. She edited the first modern edition of Memoir of James Jackson, The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, the pioneering 1835 biography by Bostonian Susan Paul that is the earliest known biography of a free child of color and the first biography published by an African American woman.

Brown has held research fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. A 2000 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Award recipient, she has been affiliated with the Harvard University Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research where she also has been a visiting fellow. Brown has lectured widely and published articles on African American literature, women’s writing, early American education, and African American history and religion. The Museum of African American History in Boston recognized her work with one of its first African American History Awards and lauded her for her “extraordinary commitment to American history” and her “obvious commitment to education and equality.” Her passion for African American history has led to successful curatorial experiences that have included exhibitions at the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston and at the Boston Public Library. Since 2003, she has curated and co-curated five exhibitions including two major exhibitions honoring William Lloyd Garrison: Words of Thunder: William Lloyd Garrison and The Ambassadors of Abolition and of Words of Thunder: The Life and Times of William Lloyd Garrison.

 

5 Questions With . . . Ashraf Rushdy on Lynching in America

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains how lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th Century until the 1930s.

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains why lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th Century until the 1930s. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Ashraf Rushdy, professor of English, professor of African American Studies and chair of the African American Studies Program. Rushdy is the author of American Lynching, a meticulously researched interpretive history of how lynching became a uniquely American phenomenon and how it has endured, evolved and changed over the course of three centuries. The book was published by Yale University Press in October 2012.

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

Q: Scholars have been writing about lynching for more than a century now. There is a significant body of extant literature. What did you aim to achieve with American Lynching? How is it different from other books on the subject?

A: There are, indeed, many books about lynching, and I’m beholden to that body of scholarship. Many of the books that have been written are about specific cases of lynching. There are fewer books that attempt to interpret the phenomenon generally. That’s what I have attempted to do with my book.

Lynching has been part of the American fabric for a long time, but the term has not consistently described the same thing over that time. I wanted to understand how lynching had taken root in America and how one practice, widely referred to as lynching, could develop into something quite different. And I wanted to offer a strong interpretation.

It’s interesting to note that lynching was not always a racially motivated act. The relative absence of lynchings in slaveholding Northern states and the occurrence of lynching in non-slaveholding western states is explained by the extent to which the mores and established precedents that emerged from those original slave laws took hold of the imagination of the residents of those states.

Q: Is lynching a uniquely American phenomenon, or is there a uniquely American “style” of lynching?

A: Well, the term “lynching” is certainly uniquely American. It derives from Colonel Charles Lynch,

Long ’89 Studies the Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation

Gretchen Long ’89

In her illuminating new book, Doctoring Freedom (University of North Carolina Press), Gretchen Long ’89 shares the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, as she reveals the important relationship between medical practice and political identity. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was an essential battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain some of that control.

Book by Gretchen Long ’89

During her research, Long, an associate professor of history at Williams College, closely studied antebellum medical journals, planters’ diaries, agricultural publications, letters from wounded African American soldiers, WPA narratives, and military and Freedmen’s Bureau reports. Within these documents, she was able to trace African Americans’ political acts to secure medical care: their organizing of mutual-aid societies, their petitions to the federal government, and, as a last resort, their founding of their own medical schools, hospitals, and professional organizations. She also writes about the efforts of the earliest black physicians who worked in times of slavery and freedom.