Call for Papers for Symposium and Edited Volume in Embodiment and Relationality in Religions of Africa & Diaspora

Yolanda Covington-Ward's picture
Call for Papers
January 6, 2017
Pennsylvania, United States
Subject Fields: 
Religious Studies and Theology, Anthropology, African American History / Studies, African History / Studies




Embodiment and Relationality in Religions of Africa and its Diasporas


Call for Papers for Symposium and Edited Volume

Deadline for Abstracts: January 6, 2017

Symposium at the University of Pittsburgh: April 20-22, 2017

Send Abstracts and Inquiries to: and



Yolanda Covington-Ward, Department of Africana Studies

Jeanette S. Jouili, Department of Religious Studies



Over the last few decades, attention to the body has transformed the study of religion, contributing to transcending implicit Protestant biases by shifting the examination from beliefs to embodied practices, experiences and disciplines. Whether inspired by a post-structural emphasis on power, discipline, and habitus (Asad 1993, 2002), a phenomenological focus on experience and consciousness (Csordas 1993, 2008, Stoller 1995, 1997), or a critical examination of everyday religious behavior and practice (McGuire 2008), these various trends have provided new impetus to think about the body and subjectivity, sensory perception and the senses, affect, and materiality. These new approaches in the study of religion contributed to a broader trend that challenged persistent binaries in social and cultural theory around nature/culture, self/other, mind/body. If early approaches to the body and embodiment might have developed subjectivist understandings of embodiment, more recent work has made a sustained effort to combine theorization of the body with questions of intersubjectivity, relationality and sociability (Marshall 2009; Jouili 2015; Beliso-De Jesus 2015; Covington-Ward 2016).


These questions have been key to scholars of African and African diasporic religions (Raboteau 2004; Meyer 1999, Keller 2002; Chireau 2003; Ware 2014).  However, conversations about embodiment within religion are often limited by geography (African religions, Caribbean religions, African-American experiences with religion) or the focus on particular religions themselves (i.e. Santeria, Islam, etc). Existing volumes on embodiment in religion focus overwhelming on Europe and Asia (Brown 1988; Coakley 1997). As far as we can tell, there are no existing volumes discussing the various dimensions of embodiment in religious experience across various religions of Africa and its diasporas. What consequence does this disconnect have for discussions of embodiment across Africa and its many diasporas? And what fruitful insights emerge when these different areas are placed in conversation with one another?


The two-day symposium that ultimately leads to an edited volume brings scholars together to examine similarities and differences in embodiment and relationality across diverse religions within Africa and its Diasporas. Bringing these different areas of research together is not merely a response to this geographic disconnect, but it bears many important analytical questions. Africans on the continent and throughout its many diasporas are dealing with corresponding historical and current social and economic challenges, related to colonialism, enslavement, racial oppression, and social exclusion and marginalization, both within nation-states and within larger global systems of power. Especially within the context of neoliberal reforms, such as structural adjustment programs, the reduction of social services, and the outsourcing of industrial jobs, people of African descent have borne the brunt of massive social transformations. In these contexts that have deteriorating affects on the social fabric of vulnerable communities, religion has come to play a major role, both historically and in the contemporary moment, in coping with these changes and also affecting larger social transformations. It is therefore the objective of both the symposium and the edited volume, to examine not only how these related structural conditions have impacted the spiritual embodied practices and religiously defined forms of sociability and solidarity among African and diasporic African religions but also to inquire to what extent the investigated practices of embodiment and relationality partake in something like a Black Atlantic (Gilroy) or larger global Black social imaginary.


Potential Research Questions

What role does embodiment play in the making of religious selves and religious others, for those in Africa and its diasporas?

How do embodiment and memory intersect in the context of religious belief and practice?

How is religious embodiment used in struggles for political and economic power?

What does race mean and how is it used as a signifier in religious embodiment?

How are embodied religious practices immersed in broader concerns of inter-relational ethics and social transformative struggles?

To what extent do sexual identities and gendered experiences affect and rearticulate practices of religious embodiment and relationality?

How is religious embodiment used both as a means of fostering difference and as a tool of reconciliation for individuals and communities?


Project Description

There are two related goals of this project: 1) to host a two-day symposium on April 20-22, 2017 that will bring together potential authors working on topics related to diverse expressions of embodiment and relationality in Africa and its Diasporas, and 2) to produce an edited volume (co-edited by Covington-Ward and Jouili) that develops out of the symposium. 


For the symposium and edited volume, we anticipate that scholars within Religious Studies, Africana Studies, Anthropology, African Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Sociology of Religion, and other disciplines and fields may be interested in participating in this interdisciplinary project. 


The two confirmed invited keynote speakers whose scholarly work deals with the intersection of embodiment and relationality in religions of Africa and its diasporas are Stephanie Mitchem, Professor of Religious Studies at University of South Carolina and author of African American Folk Healing (NYU Press) and Rudolph Ware, Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of The Walking Qu'ran (UNC Press).The keynote speakers will spark larger conversations around the symposium theme among presenters and attendees. 


We will have discussions during the symposium, which will inform the themes that will be emphasized in the edited volume. The symposium will also be a forum for providing the individual authors with feedback on their papers. We foresee the symposium as serving as a crucial platform for developing connections between scholars and for building a coherent structure for the book.


Abstract Submission

Abstracts of approximately 500 words should be submitted to both and by January 6, 2017. Please also send an abbreviated CV (no more than 2 pages) with your abstract submission. 10 scholars will be selected to attend the symposium. Lodging and meals will be covered for all symposium participants. Travel of up to $500 will also be covered.



December 1, 2016: Edited Volume Concept Paper sent to university presses to gauge interest

January 6, 2017: Deadline for Abstracts

January 13, 2017: Notifications of Acceptance Sent Out

April 10, 2017:  Working Draft of Papers Due

April 20 – 22, 2017: Symposium held at the University of Pittsburgh

July 15, 2017: First Full Draft of Chapters Due to Co-editors

August 18, 2017: Comments Sent out to Volume Participants by Co-editors

November 1, 2017: Revised Draft due to Co-editors

January 2018: Submission to University Press

Contact Info: 

Yolanda Covington-Ward, University of Pittsburgh

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