Sarah Reynolds

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Tulane U.

Grant number

Gr. 10239

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Reynolds, Sarah (Tulane U.) "“C’est pas religieux, c’est spirituel”: Race, Religion, and Spirituality in Beninese Vodun "

My research investigates how Beninese work to remake, reimagine, rebrand, revive, and relabel Vodun given its history of marginalization and unsavory representation. I use the lenses of traditional healing and race as the primary modes of inquiry in examining how Beninese have been tasked with creating new forms of religious representation that fit the Fon concept of vodun into both the French language as well as larger narratives that paint a more nuanced picture of the religion. Methodologically, I explore how hounnons (Vodun priests and priestesses), vodunsi (Vodun practitioners), and patients visiting Vodun amawato (traditional healers) make sense of labels like “religion” and “spirituality” given the myriad of de-legitimizing representations attached to vodun. This will include: inspecting representations of Vodun in literature, media, and the historical record; conducting open-ended interviews with Vodun hounnons, amawato, and their patients; engaging in participant observation in one Vodun convent; and collecting life histories to delineate between those experiences and concepts deemed “spiritual” and those deemed “religious”. Finally, as racial representation has been crucial to the representation of both Vodun and its derivatives in the Americas, I will examine how ideas of race intersect with and influence Vodun.