I’ve been doing research into my potential project, and I’ve been encountering quite a few issues which I am anxious to address. If anyone has any advice for me on how to proceed, I would be exceedingly grateful. I am proposing to study how syncretic religion and transnational identities were formed and have continued to develop in the Caribbean. I think I’ll be focusing on Santería, Rastafarianism, and potentially Palo; there are subgroups within these faiths that I will address, but these are the three that I think best represent the intersection of indigenous beliefs, European Christianizing influence, and West African culture.
Firstly, I am concerned about my own personal bias in entering into this research project. I am a Christian-raised, middle-class Anglo-Saxon who has never been to the areas of the world I will be researching. I was raised in the Judeo-Christian culture of the United States, which is relatively intolerant of non-Abrahamic belief systems. Thus, I am hoping that I can avoid either exotifying these faiths or treating them as ‘cults’ or fringe groups. I hope that I can be properly objective in treating these faiths, without the interference of socialized normalizations regarding belief.
Second, I wonder about the legitimacy of the sources we have for these groups. No writing culture existed in the Caribbean islands before European invasion and colonization, so most of the primary sources that survive from the first decades of these interactions are from the perspective of invading peoples. Recording the oral traditions of these cultures has been notoriously tricky, and it leaves an enormous gap in the historical understanding of the roots of these phenomena. I do not want to misrepresent the experiences of these people, since it is their personal experiences that form the transnational phenomena I’m attempting to study.
With all of that in mind, I am leery as to my ability to objectively undertake this project. Again, if anyone has any suggestions as to how I ought to proceed, I would appreciate it so very much!
Edmonds, Ennis B. and Michelle A. Gonzalez, Caribbean Religious History: An Introduction (New York, 2010).
Gossai, Hemchand and Nathaniel Samuel Murrell (eds), Religion, Culture and Tradition in the Caribbean (Basingstoke, 2000).
Pulis, John W. (ed.), Religion, Diaspora, and Cultural Identity: a Reader in the Anglophone Caribbean (Amsterdam, 1999).
Taylor, Patrick (ed.), Nation Dance: Religion, Identity, and Cultural Difference in the Caribbean (Bloomington, 2001).