Afro-Queer Journeys: Transnational Revival Zion Religion in Jamaica and Panama
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Brown, Khytie K.
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CitationBrown, Khytie K. 2020. Afro-Queer Journeys: Transnational Revival Zion Religion in Jamaica and Panama. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation provides a nuanced ethnographic examination of the intersecting ways in which religion, gender and sexual alterity, race, social media technologies and transnational mobility are negotiated among Revival Zion religious practitioners traveling between Jamaica and Panama. Revival Zion is an understudied African-inspired, Christian-influenced religion originating in Jamaica. It was later brought to Panama through 20th century labor-related migrations and is sustained among Afro-Antillean Panamanians through ongoing religious travel. Local perceptions of Revival conflate the religion with nefarious practices of obeah (sorcery), a designation that is further complicated by the visible presence of queer, predominantly male, practitioners. The specters of obeah and queerness, both of which are criminalized, reveal the interpenetration of Afrophobia and homophobia as colonial legacies that are refracted through sensory hierarchies of difference. Considering the ongoing debates in the Jamaican senate about the decriminalization of both obeah and buggery (“anti-gay laws”), as well as eager international interventions in the latter, my research brings the two together, examining the fictions and realities of the “queer sorcerer” as, what I term, a geospiritual citizen. It shows how Revival Zion practitioners’ vernacular and somatic practices challenge conventional Anglo-Christian forms of spiritual and physical comportment that necessitate heteronormative modes of being. These practices queer Afro-Caribbean religion in ways that are not only future-forward, but also historically situated within emic African-diasporic spiritual logics rather than external neoliberal impositions. Thus, afro-queer as an analytic articulates non-normative, multi-sensual, and multidimensional modes of being and doing in the world grounded in Africana spiritual and cultural traditions.
This research is based on data collected through multi-sited participant observation in Jamaica, Panama and the United States over the course of 3 years; journeying with practitioners; in-depth interviews; archival research; social media content analyses and online discussion groups. This data illuminate how Revivalists’ afro-queer habitus defies repressive Aristotelian naturalistic sense hierarchies in favor of sensory dynamisms that make space for a variety of subjectivities, intimacies and orientations; as well, it shows how journeying, through ritual trance and across physical seas, and the matrices of digital space, creates deterritorialized subjects and geospiritual citizens.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365703
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