African Diaspora Religions: Vodou, Pop Culture, and the Culture Wars

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2012

This course will introduce students to the study of African diaspora religions, through the lens of exploring why these traditions—usually in mangled form—appear so frequently in American pop culture products, especially horror films. Quickly moving beyond the simple question of whether such products accurately depict these religions, the focus will instead be on exploring what work they do in creating and maintaining cultural and racial boundaries. While the special focus of the course will be Haitian Vodou, students will also explore Regla de Ocha (Santería), Palo, Candomblé, and conjure/hoodoo. Particular attention will be given to the genre of horror movies, in which voodoo’s connections with violence against whites and hypersexuality are exploited to produce both terror and arousal.

Each class meeting will begin with a short presentation by the instructor, during which the week’s readings will be woven together in light of common themes. However, the emphasis of each class meeting will be small group presentations and discussion. Students will be expected to arrive prepared to help shape the conversation. Course materials will include scholarly depictions of African diaspora religions and popular stories, novels, films, and television shows. In addition to the weekly assigned readings, students will be expected to have watched the assigned films. Many of the films are short, while for others it will only be necessary to watch short clips. Some will be viewed together in class, and others will need to be viewed prior to class meetings. The instructor is open to helping students organize group film viewings. Students are forewarned that course materials will include depictions of violence and sexuality (i.e. the bread and butter of horror)—and an emphasis will be placed on critically deconstructing these images, rather than passively receiving them. 

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