Graduate Program Director and Associate Professor
Areas of Specialization: African and Caribbean Religions, Fieldwork in Religious Studies, Religion and Culture
Office: DM 309A
My Ph.D. degree in Religious Studies is from the Center for the Study of Religions at the University of Toronto in Canada. I came to the University of Toronto after completing a BA at the University of Ghana, a Certificate in Peace studies at the University of Oslo in Norway and a MA in Religion and Society at McMaster University in Canada. My grounding is in Africa’s diverse indigenous religious beliefs and rituals and their extensions in the African Diasporas, old and new. As a scholar of religion I am equipped with the phenomenological training required to research these African traditions, the dynamics of their encounters with incoming religions, and their extensions in the Americas. However, because the religious rituals and beliefs of Africana peoples are tightly integrated into their cultures, my training also focused on the use of socio anthropological tools to explore the interconnection between religious belief and ritual and the socio-political and cultural contexts of these traditions in Africa, and the Diasporas. My approach to my subject is therefore multi-disciplinary. A long standing general interest in the roles indigenous African religious agents play in the global circulation of religion [ This includes their roles in extending indigenous African religious beliefs and practices into different cultural spheres of the globe as well as their roles as agents of Christianity, Islam and lately Hinduism] motivates my present research agenda. My current field work is on Afro-Caribbean migrants as agents of the flow of Afro-Caribbean religious rituals and beliefs into the USA. I am investigating the healing discourse and rituals of a Vodou temple community and Botanical (a shop where medicines and ritual paraphernalia are sold to consumers) called Halouba located in Little Haiti, Miami’s self-contained Haitian immigrant city. The hub of Halouba’s life is a group of Vodou Mambos [priestesses] and Houngans [priests]. Generally the research explores how Haitians and non-Haitians alike in south Florida deploy Vodou rituals and beliefs in addressing their health needs and the impact this development is having on American understandings of health and causes of ill-health. The research explores questions such as: How do the Vodou religious agents/experts assume the roles they play in south Florida? What are the central points of appeal or attractiveness for their religious healing products/services? Who are the clients or consumers of the services of the Mambos and Houngas, and what issues do they consult these specialists on? How do their rituals produce health for consumers and how do they mediate between the predominant bio-medical models that shape American understandings of health, and the holistic approach of Haitians in dealing with health issues? The research will likely expand to include Afro-Cuban religious expressions present in Miami and the impact of the presence of Haitian and Cuban African religious practices on South Florida’s ecology.
My earlier research, located in continental Africa, was a pioneering exploration of Hindu rituals and beliefs, in Ghana, my birth-place. Ghana’s Hinduism was initiated by Ghanaian soldiers who served the colonial army in India, Sri Lanka and Burma during World War 2 and acquired Hindu rituals and beliefs which they have rooted in their communities. The research investigated the historical context of this experience and the mutual impact of indigenous Ghanaian rituals and beliefs and Hindu discourse and rituals as Ghanaian worshippers receive, frame, and use Hindu gods in engaging contemporary issues, in the context of two Ghanaian Hindu Temples. The manuscript from this work titled “Hindu Gods in West Africa” was published by E.J Brill in 2013. Essays from this research have also appeared in edited volumes and peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of religion in Africa and Journal of contemporary African Studies. At FIU, where I have taught since 2006 I teach courses on African/ African Diaspora Religious beliefs and rituals, Field research and sociology/Anthropology of Religion at undergraduate and graduate levels.