Contradiction and Forgetting in Yewéssey Culture
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Anthropologists are now inescapably aware of conflict, contradiction, and negotiation in even the most seemingly "traditional" socio-cultural orders. The literature on "memory" is particularly rich in illustrations of how contradictory evocations of the past undergird conflicting performances and assertions of interest in the present. This study of the traditionally nomadic Yewéssey people documents a genre of performance seldom discussed in the anthropological literature—the ritual performance of forgetting as a means of resolving intractable conflicts and cultural contradictions. This essay is written with an undergraduate or lay audience in mind and is intended to introduce anthropological comparative method, and some of its most important vocabulary, in accessible language. Questions for classroom discussion are provided at the end.
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Anthropology & History, Africa, African Diaspora, Transnationalism, Social Theory
Anthropology of religion, of ethnicity, of education and of social theory; history and theory of anthropology; African and African-inspired religions around the Atlantic perimeter; ethnic diversity in the African-descended population of the US; tertiary education as a culture; gender, religion and politics; transnationalism; spirit possession; hierarchy in religion, politics and eroticism
J. Lorand Matory is the Lawrence Richardson Distinguished Professor of Cultural Anthropology and the Director of the Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Project at Duke University. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago, and he has conducted over four decades of intensive research on the great religions of the Black Atlantic—West African Yoruba religion, West-Central African Kongo religion, Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santería/Ocha, and Haitian Vodou.
Professor Matory is the author of four books and more than 50 articles and reviews, he is also the executive producer and/or screenwriter of five documentary films. Choice magazine named his Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Ọyọ Yoruba Religion an outstanding book of the year in 1994, and his Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé won the Herskovits Prize from the African Studies Association for the best book of 2005. In 2010, he received the Distinguished Africanist Award from the American Anthropological Association, and, in 2013, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany awarded him the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, a lifetime achievement award that is one of Europe's highest academic distinctions. Professor Matory was also selected to deliver anthropology’s most prestigious annual address, the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture, which resulted in the book Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America (2015), concerning the competitive and hierarchical nature of ethnic identity formation. His latest book, The “Fetish” Revisited: Marx, Freud and the Gods Black People Make (2018), received the 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Analytical-Descriptive Category from the American Academy of Religion, the 2018-2019 Senior Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society, and the 2022 J. I. Staley Prize of the School for Advanced Research.
From 2003 to 2009, he served as a member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee of the US Department of State and, from 2009 to 2013, as the James P. Marsh Professor at Large at the University of Vermont, one of that institution’s highest honors.
Slavery in the Heart of Freedom: Race, Religion, and Romance through the Lens of BDSM
The University as a Culture
White People: In Anthropological Perspective
China from an Afro-Atlantic Perspective
Areas of Interest
African culture in the Americas
religion and politics
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