Tag Archive for Latin American Studies

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

McGuire: Is Brazil Better Prepared Than the U.S. to Fight Zika?

James McGuire

James McGuire

James McGuire, professor and chair of government, professor of Latin American studies, is the author of a new op-ed titled, “Is Brazil Better Prepared than the U.S. to Fight Zika?”

Brazil is ground zero for the recent wave of Zika infections. McGuire argues that the country “is better prepared to fight Zika than many people think—and is, in some ways, better prepared to fight Zika than the United States.”

The Zika virus is difficult to fight, and Brazil faces some major obstacles, including a deep economic crisis, political turmoil, and an ongoing battle against other infectious diseases. Still, he writes, “Brazil has advantages in the struggle: a history of public disease control in the northeast dating back to World War II; a large and talented public health community; and years of experience with evidence-based public health interventions.

“It is no accident that the government knew where to send the 220,000 soldiers, because health data on the country’s 5,600 counties have become more complete, transparent and available during the last couple of decades. Most important, the Brazilian government in the mid-1990s expanded the Family Health Program (now Family Health Strategy), which by 2014 involved 39,000 health teams, each providing primary health care to about 1,000 specified households, including through home visits.”

In contrast, the United States “lacks a public health structure of the size and efficacy of Brazil’s for destroying mosquito breeding sites, educating high-risk populations, monitoring the spread of the disease and counseling expectant mothers.”

In the United States, mosquito monitoring and eradication is handled by 700 disconnected and underfunded public agencies, mostly administered at the municipal level but funded in part by the federal government. Federal funding for mosquito control fell from $24 million in 2004 to $10 million in 2012.

In February 2016 Congress denied President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika, demanding instead that he shift money earmarked for the fight against Ebola. On April 7 the Obama administration, citing a public health emergency, shifted about $500 million from Ebola to Zika.

The United States is a rich country with a temperate climate, but lacks an integrated public health service provision and disease control program like Brazil’s Family Health Strategy. Not surprisingly, then, both Mississippi and the vastly poorer Brazilian state of Espirito Santo have identical infant mortality rates: 9.6 per 1000.

Originally published on Inside Sources, the oped also appeared in Newsday.

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.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Grappo ’01 Teaches Latino Studies, Queer Studies

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Q: Welcome back to Wesleyan, Professor Grappo! Can you please fill us in on what you’ve done since graduating from Wes?

A: After graduating from Wesleyan in 2001, I worked a fifth grade teacher at a Catholic school in the Bronx. Then I went to grad school at Yale and got my Ph.D. in American Studies. I took a job for a couple years as an assistant professor of American studies at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Last year, I came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor, and this year I began as a full-time, tenure-track professor.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Wesleyan?

A: I’m excited to be back. I had a wonderful experience here as an undergrad. It was really formative for me as a scholar and I made good friends and enjoyed many of the resources Wesleyan offers. When I saw there was a position open here, it seemed like a terrific opportunity, as not only is Wesleyan an incredible institution, but it’s also in a great area of the country, with so many excellent resources—other universities,

McGuire Authors Chapter on Democracy, Political Regimes

James McGuire and Guillermo O'Donnell in 1985.

James McGuire and Guillermo O’Donnell in 1985.

Professor of Government James McGuire is the author of a book chapter titled “Democracy, Agency and the Classification of Political Regimes,” published in Reflections on Uneven Democracies: The Legacy of Guillermo O’Donnell by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Guillermo O’Donnell (1936-2011) was widely recognized as the world’s leading scholar of Latin American politics. During his doctoral studies, McGuire worked closely with O’Donnell in both Argentina and the United States, translating from Spanish to English O’Donnell’s Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Argentina, 1966-1973, in Comparative Perspective (University of California Press, 1988).

McGuire’s chapter in this new volume commemorating O’Donnell’s life and work argues that schemes for classifying political regimes in Latin America could be improved by defining democracy in a way that gives more priority to human agency, and thereby to the opportunity to lead a thoughtfully chosen life; by recognizing that democracy affects social and political outcomes not only through electoral competition, but also through the freedoms of expression and organization, as well as through long-term cultural changes; and by applying contemporary rather than past standards to decide whether a country meets the operational criteria for democracy.

 

 

Latin American Studies Major Lewis ’13 is Passionate about Reducing Inequality, Poverty

After graduating in May, Hannah Lewis '13 will head to Panama where she has a job lined up as an associate project director with Amigos de las Americas. "Many students here," she said, "want to—and will—change the world for the better."

After graduating in May, Hannah Lewis ’13 will head to Panama where she has a job lined up as an associate project director with Amigos de las Americas. “Many students here,” she said, “want to—and will—change the world for the better.”

Q: Hannah, what are you majoring in and what are some of your research interests?

A: I’m a Latin American studies major, with a concentration in Spanish. I’m really interested in exploring different avenues regarding community development, poverty alleviation, and social policies in Latin America. For my major’s research requirement, I wrote a paper analyzing Ecuador’s human and social development progress from 1990 to 2010.

Q: What is your personal interest in Latin America?

A: I grew up in Texas, where I was surrounded by Hispanic influences and debates on immigration. But I first fell in love with the culture, language and people of Latin America after spending a summer in Nicaragua when I was 16. I go back whenever I get the chance! I’ve been lucky enough to spend the past two summers working for Amigos de las Americas, coordinating community development and youth leadership projects in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Besides meeting some amazing people, I’ve also learned to make delicious tostones and dance bachata. I studied abroad in Ecuador my junior year and learned about Andean and Afro-Ecuadorian cultures. And after living in Latin America and collaborating with the people there, I’ve become really passionate about exploring ways to reduce inequality and poverty in the region.

Q: You’ll be graduating May 26. What are your plans after graduation?

A: About five days after I graduate, I’ll be heading to Coclé, Panama, where I have a summer job as an associate project director with Amigos de las Americas. I also recently received a Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) Fellowship to work as the Program Director at an amazing non-profit called Building Dignity next year. I’ll be moving to Lima, Peru in September, which I am very excited about!

Q: So you’re from Texas. What attracted you to Wesleyan? What will you miss most about campus life?

A: I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, but I really wanted to go somewhere new for college. As a pre-frosh I came to WesFest, sat on Foss Hill, and talked with random students about their experiences here. Everyone I met had so much passion, humor and creativity. The people who go here are my favorite part about Wes, and I will definitely miss the inspiration and energy that I am surrounded by daily. So many students here want to—and will—change the world for the better.

Q: What are your favorite classes this semester?

A: I’ve enjoyed all my classes this semester, especially “Sites of Memory and Resistance: Theater, Performance and Political Consciousness in Contemporary Spain” with Professor Bernardo Gonzalez and “Latin American Economic Development” taught by Professor Melanie Khamis.

Von Vacano ’93 Compares Four Thinkers’ Thoughts on Race

Diego Von Vacano '93

In his new work The Color of Citizenship (Oxford University Press), Diego Von Vacano ’93 suggests that the tradition of Latin American and Hispanic political thought which has long considered the place of mixed-race peoples throughout the Americas, is uniquely well-positioned to provide useful ways of thinking about the connections between race and citizenship. He argues that debates in the United States about multiracial identity, the possibility of a post-racial world in the aftermath of Barack Obama, and demographic changes owed to the age of mass migration will inevitably have to confront the intellectual tradition related to racial admixture that comes to us from Latin America.

Book by Diego Von Vacano '93

Von Vacano compares the way that race is conceived across the writings of four thinkers, and across four different eras: the Spanish friar Bartolome de Las Casas writing in the context of empire; Simon Bolivar writing during the early republican period; Venezuelan sociologist Laureano Vallenilla Lanz on the role of race in nationalism; and Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos writing on the aesthetic approach to racial identity during the cosmopolitan, post-national period.

Von Vacano’s study advances an alternative concept of race as inherently mixed, unstable, fluid, and politically potent. He links approaches to race in Latin American thought to canonical Western political discourse and posits “race” as a central component of modernity and of political theory.

Von Vacano is assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University.

McGuire Book Wins International Prize

Book by James McGuire

James McGuire’s recent book Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2010) was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2010 and won the 2011 Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research. McGuire is professor and chair in the Department of Government and a member of the Latin American Studies Program at Wesleyan.

The Stein Rokkan Prize is awarded annually by the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), and the University of Bergen (Norway), in memory of Professor Stein Rokkan, who was an eminent social scientist at the University of Bergen. The ISSC was founded by UNESCO in 1952 and is “the primary international body representing the social and behavioral sciences at a global level.” The ECPR, which manages the Stein Rokkan Prize for the ISSC, awards the prize to a book “that is deemed a very substantial and original contribution to comparative social science research.”

James McGuire

McGuire will receive the prize at the annual meeting of the ISSC Executive Council in Durban, South Africa, on Nov. 26, at which time he will deliver a public lecture on the book.

More information about the 2011 Stein Rokkan Prize is online here.

The Stein Rokkan Prize citation for Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America is online here.

 

Mellon Fellow Kiddle Honored for Doctoral Thesis


Amelia Kiddle



The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs has presented its annual award for best doctoral thesis on Mexican foreign relations to Amelia Kiddle, the Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in Latin American Studies at Wesleyan’s Center for the Americas.

Kiddle is the first winner to have completed her doctorate outside Mexico.  The prize is worth about $8,000 and includes a commitment to publish the Spanish-language version of her dissertation, “La Política del Buen Amigo: Mexican–Latin American Relations during the Presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, 1934-1940.”

Kiddle, now in the first year of her two-year fellowship,

McGuire Authors Book on Wealth, Democracy in East Asia, Latin America

Book by James McGuire

James McGuire, professor of government, professor of Latin American studies, is the author of Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America published by Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America finds that the public provision of basic health care and other inexpensive social services has reduced mortality rapidly even in tough economic circumstances, and that political democracy has contributed to the provision and utilization of such social services, in a wider range of ways than is sometimes recognized. These conclusions are based on case studies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as on cross-national comparisons involving these cases and others.

At Wesleyan, McGuire specializes in comparative politics with a regional focus on Latin America and East Asia and a topical focus on democracy and public health. He is the author of Peronism without Perón: Unions, Parties, and Democracy in Argentina and is a recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

McGuire Author of Wealth, Health, and Democracy

James McGuire, professor of government, professor of Latin American studies, is the author of the book, Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America, published by Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Why do some societies fare well, and others poorly, at reducing the risk of early death? Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America examines this question and finds that the public provision of basic health care and other inexpensive social services has reduced mortality rapidly even in tough economic circumstances, and that political democracy has contributed to the provision and utilization of such social services, in a wider range of ways than is sometimes recognized. These conclusions are based on case studies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, as well as on cross-national comparisons involving these cases and others.

McGuire specializes in comparative politics with a regional focus on Latin America and East Asia and a topical focus on democracy and public health. He is the author of Peronism without Perón: Unions, Parties, and Democracy in Argentina and is a recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.