Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús’s Electric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015) has won the 2016 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.
Santería is an African-inspired, Cuban diaspora religion long stigmatized as witchcraft and often dismissed as superstition, yet its spirit- and possession-based practices are rapidly winning adherents across the world. Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús introduces the term “copresence” to capture the current transnational experience of Santería, in which racialized and gendered spirits, deities, priests, and religious travelers remake local, national, and political boundaries and reconfigure notions of technology and transnationalism.
Drawing on eight years of ethnographic research in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba, and in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area, Beliso-De Jesús traces the phenomenon of copresence in the lives of Santería practitioners, mapping its emergence in transnational places and historical moments and its ritual negotiation of race, imperialism, gender, sexuality, and religious travel. Santería’s spirits, deities, and practitioners allow digital technologies to be used in new ways, inciting unique encounters through video and other media. Doing away with traditional perceptions of Santería as a static, localized practice or as part of a mythologized “past,” this book emphasizes the religion’s dynamic circulations and calls for nontranscendental understandings of religious transnationalisms.
The Albert J. Raboteau award is given each year to an academic book that exemplifies the ethos and mission of the Journal of Africana Religions, an interdisciplinary journal that publishes scholarship on African and African diasporic religious traditions. Albert J. Raboteau, for whom the prize is named, is author of the classic Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South, a book that has made a lasting impact in the field of Africana religions. To become eligible for the award, books must be nominated by an academic publisher, and a prestigious five-member committee is responsible for assessing these nominations and determining a winner. The selection, thus, is international in scope and highly competitive.
The 2016 prize committee included Professors Herbert Berg of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington; Cécile Fromont of the University of Chicago; J. Lorand Matory of Duke University; Jalane Schmidt of the University of Virginia; and Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs of Hood College. The committee praised the book’s careful research, beautiful illustrations, and nuanced arguments.
“We couldn’t be more pleased for Aisha Beliso-De Jesús,” proclaimed the journal’s founding co-editors, Edward E. Curtis IV and Sylvester A. Johnson. “Beliso-De Jesús’ compelling book embodies an intellectual premise at the heart of the journal: namely, that a transnational approach can reveal deep insights into the nature of Africana religions.”
PREVIOUSLY AWARDED BOOKS
Cécile Fromont’s The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) won the 2015 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.
The Art of Conversion charts the changing nature of Kongolese Christian art across four centuries. Examining images and objects from swords and crosses to portraits and sashes, the book unearths an indigenous African religious culture while also revealing new perspectives on west central African regional conflicts, the Atlantic slave trade, and nineteenth-century European colonialism.
Jacob S. Dorman’s Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (Oxford University Press, 2013) was selected to receive the 2014 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.
Dorman’s book examines several African American religious groups linked by their shared claims of descent from ancient Black Israelites. It includes discussion of Black Israelite identities among Holiness and Pentecostal Christians, Black Jews, and Rastafarians. The book’s author, Jacob Dorman, is an associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Michael Brown’s African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry (Cambridge University Press, 2012) was winner of the inaugural 2013 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.
Brown’s book examines perceptions of the natural world revealed by the religious ideas and practices of Africa’s Kongo region and among African-descended communities in South Carolina from the colonial period into the twentieth century. Brown is an Associate Professor in the History department and the Africana Studies department at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.