Cécile Fromont’s The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) has 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. Its author, Cécile Fromont, is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago.
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 2015 prize committee included Professors Elias Bongmba of Rice University, Carolyn Jones Medine of the University of Georgia, Samuel Murrell of University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Rüdiger Seesemann of the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Its members praised the book’s careful research, beautiful illustrations, and nuanced arguments.
“We are thrilled that a book about African religious art has won the Raboteau prize,” said Journal of Africana Religions founders Edward Curtis and Sylvester Johnson. “It shows how the study of Africana religions requires attention to visual and material elements, and how, in turn, such attention reveals new interpretations of both African and African diasporic history,” they added.
PREVIOUSLY AWARDED BOOKS
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.