Vodou and Other Religions: Religion, Religious Affiliation, and Haitian National Identity

Vodou and Other Religions:
Religion, Religious Affiliation, and Haitian National Identity
by Celucien L. Joseph, PhD
 

In this brief post, I would like to communicate a few ideas about three important issues that are intertwined and closely related to each other: religion, religious affiliation, and the construction of self and collective national identity based on certain religious tradition or system. The emphasis of this brief reflection will be on Haitian Vodou and Haitian (national) identity. Here are my 13 propositions:

1. Religious experience could be both personal and collective.

2. Religious piety is not spirituality.

3. Religious affiliation is a choice–at least in most Western societies and nation-states. (I understand it may not be a personal choice in certain countries where religious freedom is limited or not prized!) It is also observed that some countries in the Middle East, for example, have adopted a state religion such as Islam.

4. While a person may be born into a particular religious tradition or system–such as Haitian Vodou, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.–genuine religious affiliation, however, should be a personal choice of the individual.

As we say in Kreyol, “Yo pa achte Lwa” (“One cannot buy a Lwa/Spirit) (Nonetheless, I do understand that Vodou is also a family religion, and the religious heritage can be passed on from one generation to the next. However, that in itself does not qualify a family member to automatically become a Vodouizan, a Hougan or Mambo. Allow me to share a personal example: my grandmother from my mother’s side was a mambo (Vodou priestess), and my grandfather from my mother’s side served many lwa, even married to several of them (Spiritual marriage in Vodou). Nonetheless, my mother never practiced Vodou nor has she inherited the tradition or passed it on to her children. My father’s parents (my grandparents) were not Vodou practitioners). From this vantage point, religious affiliation is certainly not an entitlement.

5. Hence, to be born into a Haitian family does not automatically make one a Vodouizan or Vodouist.

6. Haiti is a country. Haitian is a national identity. Vodouizan is a religious affiliation. These three things are not the same and certainly not synonymous or interchangeable.

7. Haitians, both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, have embraced various and competing religious affiliations. Haitians are Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Catholic practitioners, Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists, Secular humanists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. As a result, Haitians are free to embrace any religious worldview or system.

8. Vodou is one among other religions practiced by Haitians both in Haiti and the Diaspora. Our ancestral faith is not monolithic; it is rather pluralistic. (In fact, Vodou itself is not a homogeneous religion.) Our African ancestors who were brought by force to the island of Saint Domingue brought with them various traditions, practices, customs, and competing religious practices and worldviews including Christianity, African Traditional religions, Islam, etc. While living on the island, they also adopted the religions of the Native Americans, and incorporated them into the religion of Vodou; they have also integrated Christian rituals and theology, and Masonic humanist morality and rituals into Vodou. While a large number of the enslaved population practiced what is now labelled as Haitian Vodou, not all of them were Vodou practitioners.

9. To embrace another religion other than Vodou should not be construed as the devalorization of the Haitian culture—since religions and cultures are human inventions and part of the process and theory we call social constructionism. In a true democratic state, the individual is granted the right of religious freedom and preference.

*The ideology in contemporary Haitian scholarship is that to be Haitian is to be a Vodouizan. Many Haitianist scholars have “essentialized Vodou” as the religion of all Haitians, just like certain individuals have “essentialized” race and culture. This tendency among scholars, both in the Anglophone and Francophone worlds, does not do justice to the reality and the lived-experiences of the Haitian people–both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. I would suggest that Vodou, Christianity, and Islam had played a pivotal role in the Haitian Revolution since Vodou itself is a syncretized faith which integrates Christian moral theology and ritual into its own brand of practice. Secondly, Francois Makandal, Dutty Boukman, and other important maroon leaders, and revolutionary leaders embraced Islam; they were also Vodouizan. Thirdly, the founding fathers Toussaint Louverture and Alexandre Petion were devout Roman Catholic by confession. In 1816, President Petion had invited Protestant Christianity in Haiti–what is now called today “Evangelical Christianity—only 12 yrs after the founding of the new nation of Haiti ( I do understand there is a great divide between Evangelical Christianity of the 19th century and that of the 21st century, as to their political affiliation and theological confessions). Fourthly, a large number of the enslaved Africans practiced Vodou as a religion; on the other hand, the enslaved Congolese who were brought to Saint-Domingue at the end of the 18th century were equally Catholic Christians as Catholicism became the state religion of Congo in early 15th century– even before Christopher Columbus visited the Americas. A large number of the enslaved Senegalese who were brought to the island were Muslims–an important point Jean Price-Mars affirms in Chapter 3 (L’Afrique, ses races et sa civilisation”) in “Ainsi parla l’Oncle.”

In summary, in Haiti’s contemporary society, there are three major religious practices: Vodou, Protestant/Evangelical Christianity, Vodou, Roman Catholicism. (Islam is growing rapidly in Protestant Christianity is practiced by 45% of the Haitian population. It is probably more in 2016–giving the wide spread of Evangelical Christianity in post-earthquake Haitian society.). While Vodou is among the most practiced religions by Haitians in Haiti, Haiti doe not have “one single religious tradition.” Our ancestral faith is also Vodou, Christianity, and Islam.

10. To be a Haitian Muslim or Christian does not make one an inferior Haitian Patriot.

11. In the same line of thought, the Vodouizan is not a superior Haitian than the Haitian atheist or agnostic.

12. Freedom of religion means the opportunity one has to choose or reject a certain faith among others. Religious freedom means a person who is affiliated with a certain religious tradition is free to share his or faith with another individual of a different religious persuasion or to someone who has no religious affiliation.

13. Since religion like culture is a social construction or human invention, no religion or culture has the monopoly.

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A brief note on Nationality, Religion, and the Question of the Muslim Immigrant

A brief note on Nationality, Religion, and the Question of the Muslim Immigrant
 
Abraham, the founding father of ancient Israel, was not a Jew by birth. He was an” immigrant,” a Chaldean from the land of Ur/Babylon (Modern Iraq). Abraham became a Jew and the fountainhead of the Abrahamaic faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Jews, Christians, and Muslims claim him as both their spiritual and physical father.
 
Abraham, the immigrant from what is known today as the modern Iraq and the Hero of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians, just like the founding fathers of the United States of America were illegal aliens and undocumented workers. Yet, Abraham would become the greatest immigrant who has ever graced human history. He would also become the model of religious piety and faithfulness.
 
This message is for my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, those who call themselves children of Abraham and Abraham their father, and those who claim this country as their own–and no one else’s– should love all children of Abraham. The Muslims are also the seed of Abraham, and they are your brothers and sisters! Love them, care for them, and extend kindness and hospitality to them!

My New Book Has Arrived!

My new book has arrived today. It is so good to finally hold it in my hands.

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity (2016) by Celucien L. Joseph

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My new book:Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Dear Friends and Faithful Readers: I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Project Summary

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity (Hope Outreach Productions, 2016) Authored by Celucien L Joseph, PhD

List Price: $19.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
160 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1523393206
ISBN-10: 1523393203
BISAC: Religion / Comparative Religion

Book Summary

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance articulates the religious ideas and vision of Wole Soyinka in his non-fiction writings. It also analyzes Soyinka’s response to religious violence, terror, and the fear of religious imperialism. The book suggests the theoretical notions of radical humanism and generous tolerance best summarize Soyinka’s religious ideals and religious piety.

In response to religious violence and fanaticism in the world, Soyinka turns to the ethics and values of humanism as a better alternative to religious exclusivism and claims of absolute truths, and as a way to promote global peace, planetary love, and cultivate interreligious dialogue and understanding. Soyinka’s radical humanism is grounded in the religious ethos and sensibility, and the moral vision of the Yoruba people, as well as in the Western theistic Humanist tradition and secularism.

Through a close reading of Soyinka’s religious works, the book argues that African traditional religions could be used as a catalyst to promote religious tolerance and human solidarity, and that they may also contribute to the preservation of life, and the fostering of an ethics of care and relationality. Soyinka brings in conversation Western Humanist tradition and African indigenous Humanist tradition for the sake of the world, for the sake of global shalom, and for the sake of human flourishing.

Celucien L. Joseph, PhD (University of Texas at Dallas) is an Assistant Professor of English at Indian River State College.

The book can be purchased on amazon by clicking on the link below:

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Ten Theological Truths about God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Briefly, here are 10 theological truths that all three Abrahamaic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) confess about God:

1. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in the unity (oneness) of God and that there is only one God (both Jewish and Christian theologians call that the doctrine of monotheism or “tawhid” in Islamic theology).

2. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God is transcendent and uncreated (that is, God has always existed; he has no beginning and no end. Theologians use the theoretical concept “aseity” to describe this phenomenon about God)

3. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe God is Creator of everything and Sovereign Lord of the universe.

4. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God’s knowledge of the present, past, and future is comprehensive and exhaustive.

5. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God created the first human beings: Adam and Eve.

6. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God created human beings to serve, worship, and honor Him.

7. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God is love, just, and compassionate.

8. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God cannot be known by human beings; rather, God himself has revealed Himself to humanity—through chosen individuals known as prophets.

9. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God has also revealed Himself through a Book; Jews call this sacred text the Hebrew Bible/Scriptures (Old Testament); Christians call it the Bible—which includes both the Old Testament and New Testament—and Muslims call their book the Qur’an.

10. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God has reserved a judgement day in which he will judge all people, punish all evildoers, and rewards everyone according to his/her deeds.

* There are also great theological divides and differences between Jews, Christians, and Muslims about the same God they confess. For example, Christians believe God exists in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Christian theologians call this special aspect about God the trinity. Both Muslims and (orthodox) Jews reject the doctrine of the trinity. Orthodox Jews are still waiting for God to send the Jewish Messiah; Christians believe that Jesus is/was the Jewish Messiah promised by God in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament); and Muslims do not believe that Jesus is/was the Jewish Messiah. Further, Christians confess the full deity and humanity of Jesus; that is Jesus is God, and that God incarnated in the historical person named Jesus. Christians also believe that Jesus is the final revelation of God and that no one can come through God except through Jesus (that is Jesus is the only way to God). Both orthodox Jews and Muslims reject the finality and supremacy of Jesus. Muslims believe Mohammed, not Jesus, is the final revelation of God.

Happy New Year!