Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Donald Robotham


Jacqueline N. Brown

Committee Members

Jacqueline N. Brown

John Collins

Aisha Khan

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


African Diaspora, Orisa, Santeria, religion, gender, African-American Studies


In this dissertation I have examined claims to religious authenticity, purity, legitimacy and authority through the lens of a Black and African American Orisa community in Brooklyn, New York. Through these claims, made both internally and to a broader Orisa community within the United States and throughout different locales in the Black Atlantic, I have articulated how they are more often than not linked to very non-religious aspects of social life. Members of this community, and the broader Orisa Atlantic of which they are a part, do not practice this tradition in a social, cultural, or political vacuum. In fact, the very basis for the formation of this community lies in its response to the unrelenting racial and gender oppression they’ve experienced. As such the very way they have interpreted, internalized, and re-inscribed their religious practice is dictated by their worldview as an oppressed yet resilient and revolutionary people. Their religious self-identification within this context has encountered responses by other practitioners whose own worldviews have been shaped by the social, political, economic, and cultural realities of their own locales; realities that I highlight in this dissertation as well. As members of this Black and African American Lucumí community engage in various dialogues with Cuban and Cuban American Lucumí practitioners, as well as with Brazilian and Nigerian devotees of Orisa tradition, what becomes apparent is a Black Atlantic politics of religion that is defined as much by issues of gender, racial, and ethnic/national struggles as it is by the dictates of purely religious doctrine. As both a priestly and ethnographic witness of these dialogues I have outlined throughout this dissertation the distinct ways these broader issues come to impact not only religious practice but diasporic relationships based on a shared, if at times highly contested, sacred tradition.