Abstract

The Jamaican government reconsidering the Obeah Act in the summer of 2019 highlighted the legacy of prejudice and criminalization of Africana religious systems and practices left by colonization across ethno-linguistic borders and the broader Black Atlantic. It also highlighted how some traditions such as Béninois Vodun, Candomblé, Santería, and oriṣa worship in parts of Nigeria have successfully managed to combat state policing and prejudice to gain official recognition and legal protection. However, this article analyzes the way even the legal and conceptual success of Africana religions in the modern world places them in a Catch-22. Drawing attention to the fundamental differences between modern conceptions and assumptions of what constitutes “religion,” the article traces the history of how modern political and legal structures either exclude and oppress Africana traditions or exert subtle pressure on them to conform to conceptions of “religion” that are more intelligible and acceptable to their largely Western-based frameworks.

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