Moral geographies of diasporic belonging: race, ethnicity, and identity among Haitian Vodou practitioners in Boston
Crocker, Elizabeth Thomas
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This dissertation explores the ways that Haitian Vodouisants are actively (re)working Vodou into a diasporic and transnational faith that can speak to localization of both homeland and new land. Immigrant communities are pushed and pulled between homogenizing frames of American religiosity and internal debates and dialogs that may fracture them in new, unique ways. The free market of religions in a disestablishment context such as America gives faith communities the ability to claim equal positioning but also opens doors to religious shoppers and converts. Vodouisants draw upon heritage identities, localization, and networks to make claims of belonging and power. Haitian- ness and blackness are identities of belonging that white initiates cannot claim despite redrawing moral geographies. Initiates are made into inwardly facing communities through the educational as if of ritual, creating possibilities for non-Haitians to belong at least marginally. Redrawing these moral geographies provides a way to construct diasporic faith communities disconnected from the sacred spaces of the homeland. However, redrawing boundaries also means building bridges to diasporic realities and localizations. For Vodouisants in Boston, this means plugging into the progressive narratives of feminism and LGBTQ equality using particular presentations of Vodou mythology and practice. Presentations at universities and work with academics help legitimize not only Vodou but also this diasporic focus. Legitimization in local Boston contexts may aid in claims-making towards belonging to larger American forms of religion, but it also creates problems with homeland identities. Creative accommodations of practice, identity, and narrative building may allow Vodouisants the ability to claim belonging in larger religiosities but at the same time threaten reputations and Haiti focused claims-making of traditionalism. This case study provides insight into what will be a longer and broader process of Vodou developing as an American religion.