A Dissection of a Misunderstood Practice – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

A Dissection of a Misunderstood Practice

Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Elana Jefferson-Tatum held a fireside chat at the Office of Intercultural Affairs as part of HWS’s Black History Month series of events on Feb. 28.

Jefferson-Tatum is scholar and practitioner of Vodun, an African indigenous religious tradition practiced presently in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. She  is also currently teaching AFS 240 “(Mis-)Translating Vodun: The Politics of Translation in Africana Religious Worlds.”

“Vodun is not voodoo. It’s not the stereotypes commonly depicted on TV or that we read about in your average newspaper. Vodun is about community and self-building. It’s about respect, ethical engagement and family. Vodun teaches us that in sharing a meal (such as through the practice of sacrifice and offering) we must practice and embody the ethic of cherishing, caring for, and nourishing the community,” she explains

Gemyra Greggs’18 says she enjoyed and learned from Jefferson-Tatum’s discussion. “By diving into a topic which I don’t have much familiarity with, I think I have taken the first steps of deconstructing the negative views that I have of Vodun. I learned that it is a practice about community and sharing life with others,” she says.

Jefferson-Tatum joined HWS in 2016. She earned her Ph.D. in religious studies from Emory University and was awarded the John Fenton Prize in the Comparative Study of Religion. Her dissertation, “Religious Matters: African (Vodoun) Materialities and the Western Concept of Religion,” interrogates the category of religion to draw attention to the significance of materialities (specifically, “objects,” nature and bodies) within African religious cultures.

Jefferson-Tatum’s research examines theoretical and methodological issues in the study of religion and Africana religious cultures. In the classroom, she challenges her students to examine the impact of colonialism on Africana worlds and likewise to re-think what is African about religion and what is religious about Africa.