Religion, Diaspora and the Limits of the Law

Over the past two decades, I have been engaged in analyzing a range of contemporary challenges in transnational black occult religions that are sometimes at odds with emergent rights endowed agendas of state and international institutions. The manuscript from which is evolving from that research is entitled Of Dreamers and the Limits of the Law: Dilemmas in the Exercise of Religious Freedom. This work responds to what I see as one of most explosive issues in transnational theories of religious formations today. It deals with the challenges of religious pluralism in national state contexts and inspires questions concerning the ways that practices conducted outside of diasporic “homelands” become embodiments of other traditions. It asks how those “traditions” are being revived in legal proceedings in order to protect the rights of individual claimants, while at the same time reinforcing a particular narrative about harm and violence in various countries, such as Nigeria, the Sudan, and the Liberia.

Like my past work, my future research attempts to continue to build on the inter-relationship between this literature by examining various cases through which we might understand how, in democratic nation states such as the US and Canada, state power is being exercised not only through the protection of religious freedoms through various constitutional rulings, but also through their adherence to international treaty requirements. In this regard, the book in progress examines various cases (constitutional freedoms, asylum, criminal/religious, religious freedoms among inmates) where courts have ruled in particular ways and those affected or concerned have mobilized differently.

The object of analysis focuses on the way that various forms of African-based religious practices in the US, Canada, Africa and the Caribbean—orisha-voodoo, Santeria, and Jamaican obeah–are being practiced in diasporic contexts and taken up in North American courts in response to contestations over “religious freedom” in civil cases and those addressing criminal, civil asylum and refugee cases. This project is committed to bringing to anthropology the study of international institutions and the ways that new forms of governance are taking shape, thus reconfiguring the way we understand transnational phenomena today.

Yet, scholars of religion have tended to be concerned with understanding meanings of practices and social change in a range of complex formations. And scholars of law have looked at the ‘authenticity’ of rulings and their implications for establishing a just society. Yet very few scholars of religion and law who work in professed secular democratic contexts are exploring the ways that these two domains are mutually constitutive and at the cutting edge of some of the most pressing issues of our times.

Oyotunji Village Historic Archive Project

This compilation of these images represents an archive of photos taken by cultural anthropologist, Kamari Maxine Clarke as well as contributions of Oyotunji practitioners from a range of archives taken over a forty year period.

From the formation of the Oyotunji orisa-voodoo movement to its contemporary manifestations, the imagery of the periods represented here ranges from 1960-1970; 1971-1980; 1981-1990; 1991-2000; to 2001-2008. All of these periods represent the formation of its making, marking a period in which it emerged out of United States Jim Crow Segregation, Black Power Protests, Civil Rights Possibilities, and Various Cultural Heritage movements that resonate today with its transnational linkages with West African Orisa practices, Cuban and US Santeria/Lukumi, Brazilian Condomble, and the Trinidadian orisha traditions.

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