16 Apr As Corona Crisis Continues, Africana Scholars and Practitioners Keep the Knowledge Flowing Through the Community— Virtually
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Santa Barbara, CA—The disappointment of cancellation has been a common feature of the past month as the country and the world have been gripped by the spread of the novel Coronavirus. With events being axed both domestically and overseas, impacting economics and morale, the African and Diasporic Religious Studies Association (ADRSA) decided against cancelling its annual conference—originally scheduled to be held this weekend at Xavier University in New Orleans, one of the epicenters of the outbreak—opting instead to move it online. The bold shift might be the first time a scholarly association conference has been held entirely online and may portent a time to come where more and more will take place virtually. But being online doesn’t mean without being without genuine connection.
“One of the highest compliments I’ve ever received about the conference is that it feels like a family reunion,” says ADRSA founding director, Dr. Funlayo E. Wood-Menzies, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We were looking forward to being together in person and we just couldn’t give that up altogether, especially not at this moment. I’m humbled to carry the Association forward into this new territory.”
Founded at Harvard University in 2012, the Association curates and promotes scholarship on the indigenous spiritual systems of the African continent and their related traditions in the diaspora through its regular conferences. Wind & Fire: Honoring the Divine Feminine and Masculine in Africana Religions, is the Association’s eight conference and will feature scholars, practitioners, and community members including keynote Baba John Mason, special guest Dr. Kim Vaz-DeVille, and featured artist Stephen Hamilton. Participants—more than 300 registered so far—will gather online via video conference to explore notions of gender and sexuality in traditions like Ifa, Rastafari, Lukumi, Haitian Vodou, Batuque, and others.
Wood-Menzies is no stranger to online gathering. Digital tools are a long-standing facet of her pedagogy in her academic life and, in her role as an Ifa-Orisa priestess, she hosts popular monthly live discussions and has an active YouTube following. While she ultimately decided it wasn’t for her, she also credits a brief stint as a computer programmer in her early 20s with helping to equip her with the technical knowhow to produce quality online programming. “I was blessed to be at the vanguard of the digital revolution,” she explains. “My family had an internet-connected computer when very few others did. I immediately fell in love with the power of technology to transform our connections to one another. It’s been amazing to watch it all continue to evolve, and this situation with COVID-19 is pushing the evolution further and faster.”
Indeed, since the country went on lockdown beginning in mid-March, virtual offerings have abounded. Everything from church services and prayer circles, to birthday parties and classes are being offered online. The Association is taking full advantage of the possibilities by collaborating with organizations including Kiire Wellness, whose founder Baba Oludare Bernard, will offer an online Orisha song and movement class in conjunction with the conference. Rounding out the weekend the Association will screen films on Africana religions including Djimon Honsou’s recent “In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven” and filmmaker Régine Romain’s award-winning short “Brooklyn to Benin.”
“This is a difficult moment for us all, but Africans are innovative and resilient people,” says Wood-Menzies. “Carrying on and continuing to learn, grow, and connect is the best way to honor those we have lost.”
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African and Diasporic Religious Studies Association