African Territoriality and the Politics of Cultural Heritage in Brazil

April 11, 2024 - 5:00 pm

Room 9205
The Graduate Center, CUNY

From the 1980s onward, leaders of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé successfully adapted federal and state cultural heritage laws to protect historic temples and gain select land use rights as part of the (re)construction of a multiracial Brazilian democracy. State technicians and anthropologists in dialogue with religious leaders defined African territoriality in Brazilian cultural heritage policies through sometimes conflicting principles of race, gender, and history. Black priestesses were fundamental to this process, leading their communities toward greater public respect, representation, and protection through political negotiation. This talk draws on historical and ethnographic research to argue that the adaptation of cultural heritage status to historic temples defined Black women’s leadership as a central feature of African heritage in Brazil, while leaving the widespread issues of land insecurity and religious and environmental racism unexamined. The Candomblé religion depends on healthy and sustainable material relationships to the land and community. Religious racism, land speculation, economic precarity, and environmental destruction continue to marginalize Candomblé temples and their leaders in Brazil despite nominal celebration by the state.

Jamie Lee Andreson (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean (IRADAC) at the CUNY Graduate Center. Dr. Anderson is also an assistant teaching professor of History and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on the politics of race and gender in the Candomblé religion of Brazil through ethnographic and historical methods. She is currently finishing her book manuscript, Divine Femininities: Matriarchy and African Heritage in Brazil, which centers Black priestesses as major architects of the Brazilian multi-racial democracy. Her previous publications include a Portuguese-language book published with Editora UFBA in 2019 and an article in the Journal of Africana Religions, which this talk is based on. Her research has received funding from Fulbright-Hays and the Ruth Landes Memorial Fund, as well as a previous postdoctoral fellowship with the Africana Research Center (ARC) at Penn State.

Moderator: John Collins, Queens College, CUNY

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