Abstract

Consequential categories like “Africana religions” emerge from a calibration of religious practices with ethnographic writing practices. Attending to the processes of writing Africana religions warrants close attention because it is mostly through such second-order representations that “Africana religions” enter the broader comparative field of the study of religion. These representations exert force as durable indexes of religion and race. For example, descriptions of Africana religions have long emphasized the centrality of “spirit possession,” at least in part as a contraposition to European individualism and rationalism. This essay gives close attention to writing on the practices of spirit possession and the ways the category of “Africana religions” is thereby constituted. Scholars' narratives of their own possessions, or what I call the technique of “writing with the left hand,” present a relatively recent strategy for writing Africana religions. I focus on the work of the French ethnographer Michel Leiris in Africa to address the affordances and risks of this mode of report.

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