REL 328: RELIGIONS OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA

OUTSIDE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS

 

Atlantic Slavery: The Middle Passage

Option A:

Watch the PBS documentary "Africans in America, Volume I: The Terrible Transformation" (on reserve at the Circulation desk of the library) and write a four-page review essay discussing how the film integrates and/or illustrates the course materials. Your essay should NOT be a summary of the film. Rather, you should think about how the film adds to, deepens or challenges your understanding of slavery and American history. Be as specific as possible and use concrete examples to illustrate your points. In your essay, you should specifically address the following questions:

1. What made the enslavement of Africans in the 17th century different from previous forms of slavery? Discuss how the definition of who could be legally enslaved changed over time with the enactment of individual laws. How did these various laws transform the nature of slavery?

2. How were the lives of indentured servants and slaves different? How was this correlated to race?

3. What did you learn from the film? What surprised or moved you?

(75 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 7

 

Option B:

Spend some time looking at the paintings in "The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo" by Tom Feelings (on 2 hour reserve at the Circulation desk of the library). On a sheet of paper, please record your immediate responses to the paintings: emotional and otherwise, without censoring yourself or trying to organize your thoughts.  How do the paintings make you feel? List these feelings in the order in which they occur to you, whatever they may be. Try not to think too much with your rational mind, but to experience the paintings on their own terms.

 

After you have recorded your immediate responses, begin to engage your intellectual self by answering the following questions in a four-page essay:

1. What do the paintings convey about the experience of the Middle Passage?

2. Based on what we have read for our class, do you find these paintings accurate in their details? Why or why not? Give specific examples to support your answer.

3. Do the paintings convey something different from the scholarly treatments of the slave trade that we have been reading? Or do they communicate a similar set of information? Give specific examples.

4. Can these paintings be considered an "historically accurate" account of slavery in the same way that scholars consider other documents, such as a ship's log or the records of a slave trader, to be historical? Why or why not?

5. Why do you think it was important to Feelings to create these paintings, so long after the events that they depict? Some have argued that slavery is long gone and neither Feelings nor his grandparents or great-grandparents experienced slavery, so why revisit old history?

 

Include the list of your immediate responses with your essay.

(75 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 7

 

Option C:

Watch the film "Sankofa" (on reserves at the library's circulation desk) and write a four-page essay discussing how the film integrates and/or illustrates the course materials. "Sankofa" is an Akan word that means one must return to the past in order to move forward.

 

Pay particular attention to what the film has to say about the issues of the past, slavery, rebellion, relations between masters and slaves, relations among slaves, as well as the loss of family, traditions, and ancestors that slavery represented, and the importance of religion as both a justification for slavery and a way to endure (or rebel against) it. Make specific links to what we have been reading or discussing in class. Your essay should NOT be a plot summary of the film--rather, I am looking for a thoughtful reflection that makes connections between the film and the course materials. There are many ways to go about this. One way would be to write about how the film as a whole treats the experience of slavery. How is the Middle Passage and the experience of slavery represented in the film? What is the role of religion (both Christianity and traditional African spirituality) in the film? How does the film portray African rituals, traditions of African storytelling and an African sense of supernatural or spiritual powers? Another way would be to focus on the main characters and their experiences. How did the system of slavery itself create divisions among the enslaved? What is the main character's journey in the course of the film? What is the significance of the film’s title and why is it important to "return to the past in order to move forward"?

(75 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 7

 

 

Slave Narratives: Olaudah Equiano

Option A:

Watch the video "A Son of Africa" (on reserves at the circulation desk of the library) and write a 4-page analysis of the life of Olaudah Equiano. An analysis is NOT a plot summary of the film. Rather, you should think about the deeper issues about slavery and race that the film raises. In your analysis, please address the following questions: 1) How and why was Equiano enslaved? 2) How and why was he able to gain his freedom? 3) What was Equiano’s life like after his emancipation? 4) What does Equiano's life suggest about the complexities of the slave system? 5) What does it tell us about the relationship of slavery to race?

Use concrete examples from the film, Equiano's narrative or other course readings to support your points.

(75 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 9

 

Option B;

This assignment has two parts. Please complete them in order.

Part I. White slave owners often claimed that slavery was a benevolent institution in that it: a) enabled Africans to become Christians and therefore eligible for eternal life; and b) served to care for blacks who otherwise were incapable of surviving due to their "primitive" cultural level (this is sometimes called "benevolent patriarchy"). For example, Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence ("we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal...") counseled a fellow Virginia planter not to free his slaves because they would not be able to care for themselves.

 

Nevertheless, the problem of runaway slaves was an acute one throughout the slave period, despite restrictive laws prohibiting slaves from being taught to read and write, assembling in groups, or having their own religious services outside of white supervision.

 

Why do you think that slaves tried to run away, often from the only home that they had ever known? On a sheet of paper, list some of the reasons that you think might have prompted slaves to flee.

 

After you have done this, you are ready for the second half of this assignment.

 

Part II. Go to the website: http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/gos/index.html

Read "About the Project" (a small link in the lower right hand corner of the home page). Spend at least one hour (or more) getting to know the site and browsing the advertisements. Note that you can perform a number of searches in order to find out specific details about runaway slaves. The full-text search option will allow you to combine search words. You should examine no less than 20 advertisements, noting any similarities among them.

Using the resources of the site, please answer the following questions. Be as specific as possible and include concrete examples to support your answers:

1. Based on your research, what were the main reasons that slaves ran away? Use concrete data to support your conclusions (i.e. percentages, etc.)

2. How old were most runaways? What was the percentage of male runaways versus female?

3. Did runaways tend to have special skills, such as a trade or literacy? What percentage of runaways had special skills?

4. What circumstances or conditions might favor a runaway? How might a slave be successful in running away? Discuss specific examples that you found.

 

Please type up your answers in the form of a four-page essay. The final paragraph of your essay should address the following issues: What conclusions do you draw about run away slaves? Do these conclusions support the white rationale for slavery? Do they support the list you made in Part I?

(50-100 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 9

 

 

Haiti and Vodou: Overview

Option A:

Watch the film "Voodoo and the Church in Haiti" (on reserves at the library circulation desk) and write a 4-page review discussing how the film integrates and/or illustrates the course materials. Be as specific as possible and use concrete examples to illustrate your points. Your essay should NOT be a summary of the film. Rather, you should think about how the film adds to, deepens or challenges your understanding of Haitian history and religion.

(75 points)

DUE:  FEBRUARY 14

 

Vodou Cosmology: The Lwa

Option A:

Using one or more of the resources listed below, write a 4-page essay about some aspect of Haitian vodou that interests you. For example, your essay might consider the African roots of vodou; the history of vodou in Haiti; the popular misconceptions of vodou; the artistic tradition of vodou; the importance of the lwa; etc.

 

NOTE: this is a research project and you must demonstrate that you have done sufficient research beyond the course materials in your essay. Do not consult other sources without my permission.

Resources:

1. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vodou/index.html

2. Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (on reserve at the circulation desk of the library)

3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A1019666

4. Vodou websites on tools tab of Oncourse

5. VodouArt_FlashSpirit (under Additional Readings tab)

(100-150 points)

6. Joseph Murphy, Working the Spirit (on reserve at the circulation desk of the library)

 

DUE: FEBRUARY 28

 

Divine Horsemen

Option A:

Have you ever had a profound spiritual experience, a moment when you felt that you came in direct contact with the divine, however you define it? Write a 4-page essay describing your experience, addressing the following questions explicitly:

1) What were the circumstances of the experience? What did it feel like? What was going on in your life at the time?

2) Compare and contrast that experience with Maya Deren's experience of "white darkness." Do you find these experiences to be similar in certain ways or totally different, and why?

3) What is the role of religion in making sense of these experiences, your own and that of Deren?

(50 points)

DUE: FEBRUARY 21

 

In Search of the Zombie

Option A:

Hollywood has produced dozens of popular "zombie" films, most available at your local video rental store. This assignment asks you to watch one or more zombie movies and analyze them in a 4-page paper, using what you have learned in this class.

Your analysis should NOT be a plot summary--rather, I am looking for a thoughtful critique of the conventions of zombie movies and what these reveal about American culture and prejudices.  In your essay, address the following questions:

1)   Why do you think that the idea of the zombie is so appealing to Americans?

2)   Is the American conception of the zombie different from the Haitian, and if so, how?

3)   What cultural fears or issues do you think that the zombie represents for Haitians on the one hand and Americans on the other?

 

Here is a link to one list of zombie movies (note that it is a dated list, nothing appears after 1990):

http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/127.html

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 2

 

Zombi as a Cultural Phenomenon

Option A:

This assignment asks you to watch Wes Craven's film version of Wade Davis' book, also entitled "The Serpent and the Rainbow." (Note: the library does not have a copy of this film, but it should be available at your local video store or on Netflix).

Using what you have learned about Haiti, vodou and zombies, as well as Davis' book, write a 4-page critical analysis of the film.  Your paper should NOT be a plot summary; rather I am interested in a thoughtful critique of the film that draws upon what we have been reading and discussing in class. Pay attention to how vodou, Haiti and zombies are portrayed in the film. In what specific ways is the film different from Davis’ book? Why do you think this is the case?

(75 points)

DUE:  MARCH 2

 

Option B:

This assignment asks you to read the following four (brief) criticisms of Wade Davis' book:

http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/bookreviews/davisrev.htm

http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/bookreviews/davis2.htm

http://www.iupui.edu/~womrel/Daviscritique.pdf  

http://www.iupui.edu/~womrel/Daviscritique2.pdf

 

Choose ONE of the following options:

1. You are charged with defending Wade Davis from his critics. In a 4-page refutation, outline Mr. Davis' responses to at least three of what you take to be the most salient criticisms. To the best of your ability, you should adopt Davis' perspective in your refutation, whether you personally agree with it or not.

 

2. In a 4-page paper, summarize the main points of Davis' critics. How have these criticisms changed your own understanding of the book and/or of the phenomenon of zombies?

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 2       

 

Option C:

This assignment asks you to read writer Zora Neale Hurston’s description of her experiences with zombies in Haiti in the 1930s and a short story by Neil Gaiman and to answer the following questions. The readings are located in the Additional Assigned Readings tab of Oncourse (Hurston, “Zombies” and Gaiman, “Bitter Grounds”).

 

1) Based on the Hurston reading what is the Haitian understanding of the Zombie? What are the main characteristics of Haitian Zombies? What kinds of activities are associated with Zombies?

2) If we consider the zombie as both a legendary figure (like the Vampire, Sasquatch, or fairies, ogres, etc.) and also as a metaphoric symbol of a particular people’s history and fears, what do you think that the Zombie might symbolically express for Haitians--for example, what might the idea of a soulless laborer who toils endlessly for the benefit of another mean in the context of Haitian history?

3) How is the Zombie of American movies different from the Haitian idea of the Zombie?

4) Notice the opening line of Neil Gaiman’s story “Bitter Grounds.” In the course of the story, Gaiman plays with the Haitian figure of the Zombie to explore the metaphoric meaning of “the living dead” in a contemporary, American context. What do you think that the zombi figure represents in this story—that is, what might this particularly American version of the zombi symbolize on a metaphoric level? What do you make of the story’s ending? Why is the main character unable to taste anything? What do you think is the significance of the bitter coffee that recurs throughout the story?

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 2

 

Santeria Cosmology: The Orishas

Option A:

Read at least ONE (or more) of the following articles that give profiles of different Afro-diasporan Orishas/Orixás (all are located under the Additional Readings tab):

a) AfroCubanOrisha.pdf

b) Orishas_profiles_Santeria.pdf

c) Thompson_Flash of the Spirit-1.pdf (the profiles begin on page 11)

d) Omari_Yemanja.pdf

e) Tunkara_Yemoja.pdf

f) Wafer_Tempo_Taste of blood.pdf

 

Based on your reading, prepare a short (5-7 minute) class presentation about one of these deities, describing to the class the characteristics and ritual attributes of the oricha/orixá and how he or she is venerated. If you choose to do this option, please let me know so that I can put aside some time for your presentation.

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 23

 

 

Santeria Rituals

Option A:

This assignment asks you to read the year-long diary of a Santeria initiate or iyawo at: http://www.angelfire.com/my/IyawoExperience/

 

Using this website, please write a 4-page essay in which you reflect on the information about Santeria contained in the diary, making explicit connections with the course materials wherever possible. Although you are free to write about whatever connections that you see, you might think about the following themes:

a)  the orishas: what is the significance of the different orishas for this initiate? How do the various orishas help him to understand his own personality and events in his life? How does he experience or relate to the orishas?

b) the structure of the religious community or ile: note the role of fictive kinship in determining the names and positions of members of the initiate’s ile. What relationships does this initiate have with other members of his community? Do these change over time?

c) the rituals: what other rituals does this initiate go through? What taboos accompany these rituals?

d) prejudice: What kinds of prejudice and misunderstanding does he encounter as he moves through through the world as a newly made iyawo?

e) personal experience: what challenges does this iyawo face and what lessons does he learn as the months go by? Why do you think that he wants to become initiated? How does it change him?

 

Alternatively, you can present your findings to the class instead of writing a 4-page essay. If you choose to do a class presentation, please let me know at least a week beforehand so I can set aside some time in class.

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 9

 

 

Option B:

Read Brown, “Thrones of the Orichas” (under the Additional Readings tab) and write a 4-page essay answering the following questions:

Note: the religion of Santería is often called La Regla de Lucumí or simply Lucumí (Lucumí was the word for the Yoruba peoples used in Cuba).

1) What is the purpose of these thrones? On what specific occasions are thrones built and why? 

2) The author argues that the thrones, implements, and traditions associated with Santería in Cuba are unique, New World creations that synthesize elements from different traditions. Using a specific example, discuss the African and European influences of your chosen example.

3) One aspect that all Afro-diasporan religions have in common is the centrality of the body. What is the significance of the body in Santería? How is it prepared and adorned to manifest a particular oricha?

4) Where religions of the book explain their theologies—their conceptions of the universe and sacred powers—in textual form, Afro-diasporan religions express their theologies in ritual and material objects. Based on this reading, what are some of the theological ideas expressed in Santería? Discuss a specific example.

(75 points)

DUE:  MARCH 28

 

Candomble: Overview

Option A:

Watch the film "Bahia, Africa in the Americas" (on reserves at the library circulation desk) and write a 4-page essay discussing how the film integrates and/or illustrates the course materials. Be as specific as possible and use concrete examples to illustrate your points. Your essay should NOT be a summary of the film. Rather, you should think about how the film adds to, deepens or challenges your understanding of Brazil’s African heritage.

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 30

 

Option B:

Watch David Byrne’s film "Ile Aiye" (on reserves at the library circulation desk) and write a 4-page essay discussing how the film integrates and/or illustrates the course materials. Be as specific as possible and use concrete examples to illustrate your points. Your essay should NOT be a summary of the film. Rather, you should think about how the film adds to, deepens or challenges your understanding of Brazil’s African heritage.

(75 points)

DUE: MARCH 30

 

 

Seating the Spirits: Candomble Altars and Rituals

Option A:

Pick one of the Afro-diasporan spirit entities that we have read or learned about in class (for example: Shango, Ogou/Ogum, Yemaya/Yemanja, Exu/Legba, Erzulie, Gede, Danballah, etc) and create an altar for that deity. Consult the following resources for information, inspiration, and examples of altars:

a) Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (on reserves at the library)

b) Cosentino’s article “On Looking at a Vodou Altar” (included with the Additional Readings)

c) Brown, “Thrones of the Orichas”  (included with the Additional Readings)

d) any of the readings listed under the outside homework option for Santeria Cosmology: The Orishas.

 

In order to complete your altar, you will need to know the likes and dislikes of the spirit entity that you have chosen, which may require some additional research beyond these sources. There are many books and articles about the most prominent of the Afro-diasporan spirit entities, and several of the course readings discuss African-derived spirit entities. Consult the Orisha Weblist (located in the Resources area) for a list of approved web resources that will give you more information about Santeria and Candomble, including attributes of the orishas that may be useful to you in the process of creating your altar. Please do not use sources other than these without clearing them with me first.

 

Your altar should include as many of the requisite items for your spirit entity as possible, and for this purpose, you may want to visit a local botanica (see Botanica San Lazaro, 2538 W Washington Street). After you have finished creating your altar, write a four-page, typed, double-spaced) essay discussing what you learned about the particular spirit entity that you selected. What are the characteristics and preferences of this spirit? How do devotees interact with this spirit? (for example, what kinds of problems do they bring to this particular spirit?) Why did you select this spirit? Based on your experience, why do you think altars might be important for devotees?

 

Include a photo of your altar with your essay (if you do not include a photo, you will not receive the full points). Be prepared to present your findings to the class.

(75-150 points)

DUE: APRIL 4

 

Altars and Rituals, continued

Option A:

Read the article by Voeks entitled “African Medicine” (located under the Additional Readings tab) and write a 4-page essay about healing practices in Candomblé. Alternatively, you can present your findings to the class instead of writing a 4-page essay. If you choose to do a class presentation, please let me know at least a week beforehand so I can set aside some time in class.

(75 points)

DUE: APRIL 6

 

Umbanda

Option A:

Read the article listed as suggested reading for this unit (*Guillermoprieto, “Rio, 1991”) and write a 4-page essay about Umbanda, addressing the following questions:

1) why is Umbanda so appealing to many Brazilians?

2) what is the role of Exu and why is this figure such a controversial one?

3) what is the relationship between Umbanda and the new fundamentalist evangelical sects? Compare and contrast these religions in terms of how each attempts to address the realities and sufferings of their practitioners

4) how is Guillermoprieto’s account of Afro-Brazilian religions different from or similar to Hale’s (in Hearing the Mermaid’s Song)?

(50-75 points)

DUE: APRIL 18