My work as a scholar, like my work on the ground, unfolds through deep and intentional collaborations. The most expansive of these incitements has been the work of building ‘Otherwise Anthropology’ with my dear friend and colleague Megan Raschig. I am excited to now be bringing this approach to bear within religious studies, most especially through a new collaboration on race, religion, health and the state, organized in partnership with my dear friend and colleague Jamil Drake.
Co-Organizer with Megan Raschig
Since early 2016, Megan and I have been gathering scholars of emergent activist movements and spaces into an ongoing conversation on ‘the otherwise‘ as a theoretical and methodological nest for understanding and supporting localized world-building initiatives. We hold the otherwise as an invitation and an incitement to develop an ‘accomplice anthropology’ that throws in with the struggles it studies. We understand this as a double move––turning theory into praxis and centering praxis as theory-making. Together, we ask what this collaborative approach demands of anthropologists as we work with our interlocutors to not only document-what-is but to actively build-together-what-could-be. In so doing, our work beckons towards a being-in-the-field that exceeds the traditional fieldwork mandate and capacitates the otherwise as theory and method for making the world anew.
We have hosted two panels at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings, “Horizons of an Otherwise” (2016) and “Racialized Terror, Persistence and the Otherwise” (2017), and “Polyphonies of Repair” at CASCA-Cuba (2018). As of June 2018, our first publication from this research collaborative, a Special Issue roundtable, is now under review.
‘religio-racial identity’ as challenge and critique
At the 2017 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, I organized a roundtable discussion inspired by Judith Weisenfeld’s recent award-winning book New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity in the Great Migration (NYU 2017). Here, Weisenfeld develops the term ‘religio-racial identity‘ as a historical descriptor to characterize early twentieth century Great Migration-era Black religious communities that challenged U.S. racial hierarchy by fashioning their own new identities. Some scholars have begun to use the term simply as shorthand for religion and race being co-constituted categories. But we argue, instead, that ‘religio-racial identity’ as poses a series of theoretical and methodological challenges––not just for scholars of U.S. religions, but for religious studies more broadly. Taking inspiration from Weisenfeld’s work, we explore through a series of paper provocations drawing on our own original research how the term ‘religio-racial identity’ challenges religious studies scholars to provincialize white agency in our studies of religion and race; to ground our theory and method in the intricate details of religious life as it is lived; and to consider the manifold roles of state agents in processes of religious and racial self-formation.
Currently, we are revising this work for publication as a roundtable, for which I will serve as Special Issue Editor and Contributor.
Co-Organizer with Jamil Drake
In early 2018, Jamil and I began to gather an interdisciplinary community of scholars to ask how state categories and processes have produced and governed the boundaries of accepted religiosity in the United States. Together, we turn our attention to nineteenth and twentieth century American society, where medicine and healing became especially powerful sites for understanding the racialization of specific groups, as well as the durability of religion in the secularizing nation. During this period, we argue that agents of the state developed new standards of health and medicine to classify and regulate the healing practices of those they racialized as other. At the same time, we also shine light on how the subjects of health reform simultaneously refused, transformed, and perpetuated these secular/racial/medical assemblages. In so doing, this project aims to uncover the complex and at times conflicting consequences of state disciplinary projects, thereby opening new directions in the study of science and religion.
We will be hosting a public launch of this project at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion through a North American Religions Unit and Secularism and Secularity Unit co-sponsored session on “Governing Health: Race, Religion, Secularism, and the Healing State.”