Divinities, Diviners, and Divinations: Religions of the African Diaspora

Course Description: This course is designed to provide students with a broad introduction to major themes within African Diasporic Religions. We will be drawing on various historical method i.e historical, ethnographical, and autobiographical. Additionally, we will be examining visual media to understand the presence and value of African Diasporic Religions in the 20th/21st century. Special attention will be given to Vodou, Santeria, and Candomble in the Americas.

Thematically, we will work through concepts of the diaspora; memory, myth and authenticity; ritual and material practices; borders, migration, gender and sexuality, religious commodities and exchange. As we traverse through these various religious traditions, it is through the readings, lectures, invited speakers, films and class discussions that we will develop a complex understanding of integrative religious worldviews that impacts every aspect of life: family structure, gender relations, education, healing, economics, politics, arts, and so on.

AMST 114-7 &11: Topics in American Studies

Attendees of AfroPunk 2018.Photo: Makeda Sandford


In Topics in American Studies, students examine a series of pressuring current politics, economic and/or social issues in the United States. Using perspectives from fields such as history, sociology, ethnic studies, religious studies, and political science, students and faculty will work together to trace the longer-term developments that have shaped the modern United State, and to examine competing interpretations of and responses to them. Topics may include current issues such as healthcare, immigration, race, foreign policy, gender, economic inequality, sexuality, electoral politics, criminal justice, the environment, and religion. This is the first touchstone course in the Hallmarks Core, where students will learn about the Hallmarks Folio process and post artifacts and reflections from their first-year course work. 


 Each instructor of AMST at Thomas Jefferson University has selected a different set of topics as the focus of their class, loosely organized into three units. In Topics in American Studies with Professor Nwokocha, we will survey three units on significant topics within the field of American Studies in the United States. We will cover units on Black Atlantic Religious, Black Feminist thought, and Afrofuturism as they relate to issues of religion, gender and sexuality.

Unit one –Black Atlantic Religions: We will understand various Black Atlantic religious traditions that are practiced in the U.S and how their gendered practices within the possession process, the vibrant spiritual energy that sustains communal connections during religious ceremonies and their transnational ties to the broader Americas animate lived religions.

Unit two– Black Feminist Thought: We will interrogate key issues and debated on Black feminist thought. By understanding gender oppression, antiracism critiques this unit centralizes Black women’s experiences and expressive cultures. Using contemporary feminist theories, films, and cultural production we can discuss the overall project of social justice including allyship and relational ethics.

 Unit three– Afro Futurism: Afrofuturism is a black aesthetic practice that combines elements of African mythology, science fiction, African Diaspora history, magic realism and political fantasy in black expressive texts across multiple media and artistic forms. Rooted in the generalized practice of “imagining otherwise,” Afrofuturism expresses the concerns, experiences, and longings of black people throughout the African Diaspora. We will examine the ways that the various speculative world created by U.S authors reimagine racial and ethnic differences, as well as well as differences of gender, class and nationality, and to think how these reimaginings reflect upon on the author’s historical moment and our own.

This course focuses on the development of close reading skills, engaging closely with the ethnographic, historical and literary texts we examine this semester, and using these readings as the basis for making original arguments about some of the above themes or issues.  By the end of this course it is with my hope that we improve upon our critical writing skills– the class will require a significant amount of writing, both in and out of class. Some will be higher stakes (graded), some will be lower stakes, but we will proceed from the assumption that writing is a practice, and we will be practicing this skill consistently. The topics examined in this course represent but a sampling of some of the major themes that animate debate, contention, and conflict. It is my hope that our inquiry during the semester will provide you with a base of knowledge and analytical tools with which to continue your exploration of American society, making you more informed as citizens, professionals, and human beings.

AMST Course Learning Objectives 

As a result of completing this course at Jefferson, students are encouraged to: 

    • Cross intellectual boundaries by applying or extending ideas and concepts outside of their original contexts. 
    • Integrate contradictory or alternative perspectives or ideas relevant to addressing a problem. 
    • Identify information needs, locate relevant quantitative and qualitative information from multiple sources, evaluate the reliability of sources, and use information ethically. 
    • Employ knowledge of political, economic, environmental and cultural developments of the past to understand current U.S. and global issues. 
    • Assemble and apply multiple perspectives and disciplinary concepts when addressing real world challenges. 
    • Define the rights and obligations of citizens in local, national, and global communities. 
    • Synthesize and critique information from diverse points of view and use logical reasoning to draw conclusions.

Spirit Possession in Caribbean Religions

Course Description: This course is designed to provide students with a broad introduction to possession experiences in Caribbean Religions. Through historical, ethnographic, autobiographical, literary and visual texts this course examines complex, gendered practices within the possession process, the vibrant spiritual energy that sustains communal connections during religious ceremonies, and the transnational imaginations that animate Caribbean religious practices in the Americas. Special attention will be given to Santeria, Candomble, Vodou, Myal, Palo Monte, and Revival Zion in the Americas.

Possession is a process through which gender and sexuality can be performed, contesting national and regional discourses of sexuality, gender, and race in the Caribbean. Thematically, we will work through concepts of memory, community, adornment, ritual, borders, and the senses. We will investigate religious ritual practices to understand various religious worldviews that shape communities’ religious and social lives.

Voodoo to Wakanda: Black Atlantic Religious Imaginaries in Film and Media

Course Description: This course will introduce students to the study of Black Atlantic religions by exploring why these traditions—usually in sensationalistic forms—appear so frequently in American pop culture products. The course quickly moves beyond the simple question of whether such products accurately depict these religions, and focuses on exploring how they create and maintain 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. 

Course materials will include scholarly depictions of Black Atlantic religions  within 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 others are only short clips. Some will be viewed together in class, and others will need to be viewed prior to class meetings. The instructor will help students organize group film viewings. Students are forewarned that some course materials may possibly include depictions of violence and sexually explicit scenes—and an emphasis will be placed on critically deconstructing these images, rather than passively receiving them. Students can buy as many or as few of the assigned texts as they wish. We only read selections from most textbooks, and therefore it is possible in many cases to make copies from texts that will be placed on reserve at the library. Many of the readings will also be placed on the course website as PDFs. Every effort will be made to guarantee that all of the assigned films are also available on reserve at the library, where they can be viewed for free, at the student’s convenience.