Religious Studies

New Books in April

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Curling up on the couch with a great book is an excellent way to practice social distancing this month. All these titles will deliver before our sale ends on May 1, so check our website regularly. You can save 50% on all in-stock titles with coupon SPRING50

Tyler Bickford traces the dramatic rise of the “tween” pop music industry in Tween Pop, showing how it marshaled childishness as a key element in legitimizing children’s participation in public culture.

The contributors to Playing for Keeps examine the ways in which musical improvisation can serve as a way to negotiate violence, trauma, systemic inequality, and the aftermaths of war and colonialism. This volume is edited by Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter.

John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place is the definitive biography of Sun Ra—composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, entrepreneur, poet, self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn, and a founder of Afrofuturism. We are pleased to be bringing this classic back into print with a new preface.

In Vital Decomposition, Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations in which she follows state soil scientists and peasant farmers in Colombia’s Putumayo region, showing how their relationship with soil is key to caring for the forest and growing non-illicit crops in the face of violence, militarism, and environmental destruction.

Micha Rahder explores how multiple ways of knowing the forest of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve shape conservation practice, local livelihoods, and landscapes in An Ecology of Knowledges.

In Relations, Marilyn Strathern provides a critical account of anthropology’s key concept of relation and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world, showing how its evolving use over the last three centuries reflects changing thinking about knowledge-making and kin-making.

In Virtual Pedophilia, Gillian Harkins traces the genealogy of the transformation of cultural construction of the pedophile as a social outcast into the image of normative white masculinity from the 1980s to the present, showing how his “normalcy” makes him hard to identify and stop.

In A People’s History of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin use a Marxist framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present, outlining the complex socio-political dynamics underlying major events in Detroit’s past, from the rise of Fordism and the formation of labor unions to deindustrialization and the city’s recent bankruptcy.

In Revolution and Disenchantment, Fadi A. Bardawil explores the hopes for and disenchantments with Marxism-Leninism in the writings and actions of revolutionary intellectuals within the 1960s Arab New Left.

In Tehrangeles Dreaming, Farzaneh Hemmasi draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles and musical and textual analysis to examine how the pop music, music videos, and television made by Iranian expatriates express modes of Iranianness not possible in Iran.

The Lonely Letters is an epistolary blackqueer critique of the normative world in which Ashon T. Crawley meditates on the interrelation of blackqueer life, sounds of the black church, theology, mysticism, and the potential for platonic and erotic connection in a world that conspires against blackqueer life.

Drawing on Whitman and Adorno, Morton Schoolman proposes aesthetic education through film as a way to redress the political violence inflicted on difference society constructs as its racialized, gendered, Semitic, and sexualized other in A Democratic Enlightenment.

In Kwaito Bodies, Xavier Livermon examines the cultural politics of the youthful black body in South Africa through the performance, representation, and consumption of Kwaito—a style of electronic dance music that emerged following the end of apartheid.

Reflecting on the experience, philosophy, and practice of Latin American indigenous and Afro-descendant activist-intellectuals who mobilize to defend their territories from large-scale extraction, Arturo Escobar shows in Pluriversal Politics how the key to addressing planetary crises is the creation of the pluriverse—a world of many epistemological and ontological worlds.

The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. This collection is edited by Jih-Fei Cheng, Alexandra Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani. It is currently available to read free online as part of our Navigating the Threat of Pandemic syllabus.

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New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

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Black Sacred Music Archive Now Available

We are excited to announce the digitization of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, published semiannually from 1987 to 1995 and now available online for the first time.

Subscribe now for access, or ask your library to purchase the archive.

Black Sacred Music, under the editorship of Yahya Jontingaba (formerly known as Jon Michael Spencer), sought to establish theomusicology—a theologically informed musicology—as a distinct discipline, incorporating methods from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy to examine the full range of black sacred music. Topics included the theology of American pop, the early days of rap, the African church, spirituals, gospel music, civil rights songs, and much more.

The journal consisted of scholarly articles, essays, hymns and folk songs, sermons, historical reprints, and reviews of books, hymn books, and recordings. It also published volumes of archival writings by R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, and Willis Laurence James.

Notable contributors include Philip V. Bohlman, Michael Eric Dyson, Andrew Greeley, Mark Sumner Harvey, Willie James Jennings, D. Soyini Madison, Sonja Peterson-Lewis, Harold Dean Trulear, William C. Turner Jr., Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, Cornel West, and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

New Books in September

Summer’s almost over, which means it’s time to start to replenishing your reading list! Celebrate the start of a new academic year with us by checking out this diverse array of books arriving in September.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Brenda R. Weber’s Latter-day Screens examines the ways in which the mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means through which to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

Self-Devouring Growth by Julie Livingston shows how the global pursuit of economic and resource-driven growth comes at the expense of catastrophic destruction, thereby upending popular notions that economic growth and development is necessary for improving a community’s wellbeing.

In Under Construction, Daniel Mains explores the intersection of infrastructural development and governance in contemporary Ethiopia by examining the conflicts surrounding the construction of specific infrastructural technologies and how that construction impacts the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time expands bipolitical and queer theory by outlining a temporal view of the long nineteenth century and showing how time became a social and sensory means by which people resisted disciplinary regimes and assembled into groups in ways that created new forms of sociality.

Terry Smith—who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading historians and theorists of contemporary art—traces the emergence of contemporary art and further develops his concept of contemporaneity in Art to Come through analyses of topics ranging from Chinese and Australian Indigenous art to architecture.

Henry Cow by Benjamin Piekut tells the story of the English experimental rock band Henry Cow and how it linked its improvisational musical aesthetic with a collectivist, progressive politics.

Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal—as exemplified by some conservative Christians who deny people inclusion, goods, and services to LGBTQ individuals—might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state.

In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of the different versions of C. L. R. James’s landmark The Black Jacobins across the decades from the 1930s onwards, showing how James revised it in light of his evolving politics.

William E. Connolly links climate change, fascism, and the nature of truth to demonstrate the profound implications of the deep imbrication between planetary nonhuman processes and cultural developments in Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth.

Cara New Daggett’s The Birth of Energy traces the genealogy of the idea of energy from the Industrial Revolution to the present, showing how it has informed fossil fuel imperialism, the governance of work, and our relationship to the Earth.

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Trans*/Religion

In “Trans*/Religion,” new from TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, editors Max Strassfeld and Robyn Henderson-Espinoza stage a long-overdue conversation between trans studies and religious studies. Read their introduction to the issue, freely available.

Contributors consider trans identity alongside Mizrahi (Arab-Jewish) identity, examine concepts of gender and spirit possession in Cuban Santería through a trans lens, present a trans analysis of the beginnings of revival preaching in evangelical Christianity, braid crip theory with trans theory and phenomenological theology, and more.

The issue also includes art, book reviews, and more. Check out the full table of contents.

Make sure you’ve signed up to receive email alerts about new issues of TSQ, and ask your library to subscribe to the journal if it doesn’t already!

New Books in May

Jump-start your summer reading with one of our new titles this May!

In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the history of two explorers whose photographs and films of tropical reefs in the 1920s cast corals and the sea as an unexplored territory to be exploited in ways that tied the tropics and reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature.

The contributors to Remaking New Orleans, edited by Thomas Jessen Adams and Matt Sakakeeny, challenge the uncritical acceptance of New Orleans-as-exceptional narratives, showing how they flatten the diversity, experience, and culture of the city’s residents and obscure other possible understandings.

The ChasersRenato Rosaldo’s new prose poetry collection, The Chasers, shares his experiences and those of his group of twelve Mexican-American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch, conveying the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

In Queering Black Atlantic Religions Roberto Strongman examines three Afro-diasporic religions—Hatian Vodou, Cuban Lucumí/Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé—to demonstrate how the commingling of humans and the divine during trance possession produce subjectivities whose genders are unconstrained by biological sex.

Written in 1937, published in Spanish in 1973, and appearing here in English for the first time, Freddy Prestol Castillo’s novel You Can Cross the Massacre on Foot is one of the few accounts of the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

Book Reports

In Book Reports, a generous collection of book reviews and literary essays, rock critic Robert Christgau shows readers a different side to his esteemed career with reviews of books ranging from musical autobiographies, criticism, and histories to novels, literary memoirs, and cultural theory.

The contributors to From Russia with Code, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay, examine Russian computer scientists, programmers, and hackers in and outside of Russia within the context of new international labor markets and the economic, technological, and political changes in post-Soviet Russia.

In Camp TV Quinlan Miller reframes American television history by tracing a camp aesthetic and the common appearance of trans queer gender characters in both iconic and lesser known sitcoms throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The coauthors of Decolonizing Ethnography integrate ethnography with activist work in a New Jersey center for undocumented workers, showing how anthropology can function as a vehicle for activism and as a tool for marginalized people to theorize their own experiences.

In Work! Elspeth H. Brown traces modeling’s history from the advent of photographic modeling in the early twentieth century to the rise of the supermodel in the 1980s, showing how it is both the quintessential occupation of a modern consumer economy and a practice that has been shaped by queer sensibilities.

In Figures of Time Toni Pape examines contemporary television that often presents a conflict-laden conclusion first before relaying the events that led up to that inevitable ending, showing how this narrative structure attunes audiences to the fear-based political doctrine of preemption—a logic that justifies preemptive action to nullify a perceived future threat.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The Cuba Reader

Tracking Cuban history from 1492 to the present, this revised and expanded second edition of The Cuba Reader presents myriad perspectives on Cuba’s history, culture, and politics, including a new section that explores the changes and continuities in Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2006.

The Fernando Coronil Reader, a posthumously published collection of anthropologist Fernando Coronil’s most important work, highlights his deep concern with the global South, Latin American state formation, theories of nature, empire and postcolonialism, and anthrohistory as an intellectual and ethical approach.

The extensively updated and revised third edition of the bestselling Social Medicine Reader (Volume I and Volume II) provides a survey of the challenging issues facing today’s health care providers, patients, and caregivers with writings by scholars in medicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. It will be a great addition to courses in public health, medicine, nursing, and more.

Catherine Waldby traces how the history of the valuing of human oocytes—the reproductive cells specific to women—intersects with the biological and social life of women in her new book The Oocyte Economy.

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New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

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American Academy of Religion, 2018

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we enjoyed catching up with authors and editors and selling books and journals at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver.

Spiritual CitizenshipWe were thrilled to feature two recent award-winning titles in the booth: Spiritual Citizenship by N. Fadeke Castor, which won the 2018 Clifford Geertz Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion; and Everyday Conversions by Attiya Ahmad, which won the 2018 Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) Book Award.

Last year’s winner of the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, Lauren Pond, displayed some of her photographs during the conference, and gave an artist’s talk about her book, Test of Faith.

Monique Moultrie, author of Passionate and Pious, and Laura Grillo, author of An Intimate Rebuke, both stopped by the booth to say hello.

If you weren’t able to attend the conference, or if your luggage was too heavy for more great books, you can still save 30% on all our great religion titles on our website using coupon code AAR18, through the end of the year.

Q&A with Tamura Lomax, Author of Jezebel Unhinged

unnamedTamura Lomax is an independent scholar, the CEO and founder of The Feminist Wire, and author of Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Female Body in Religion and Culture. We asked her a few questions about the new book, which Foreword has called “phenomenal,” “provocative,” and “an amazing pick for book clubs.”

What drew you to this topic? How did your own experience in the Black Church, including your background as a “preacher’s kid,” affect your research or approach?

The conundrum I experienced after moving from my childhood church and community in Syracuse, NY, a Black Church in a working-class black community, to Mill Valley, CA, a predominantly white and wealthy environment, at age fourteen, turned my world upside down. Privileged white teenagers have a way of making you hyperaware of your difference. And not only their belief in your purported racial difference but your supposed sexual and gender difference. I will never forget the stares, the comments, the whispers, the laughter, the jokes. I was a dark-skinned black girl from the east coast, and clearly, I was alien to them. Their obsession with me, particularly my blackness, gender, femininity, and sexuality, launched my critical consciousness into overdrive.

Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the day my new friends referred to me as a monkey who “crave[d] and provide[d] sex to anyone and anything.” While I had not yet read Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1967), this was indeed my first “Look, a Negro!” moment—the point of sudden objecthood, nonbeing, fixation, bursting apart, and being put back together—by another self. To be sure, I had known what it meant to be placed under the gaze of another. I knew the feeling of being misread, sexualized, and even lusted after as an adolescent. Unfortunately, I learned these lessons, first, through older and grown men—within my previous black community, the Black Church, and the music and culture that I loved: Hip Hop. As I write in the Prolegomenon, the hypersexualization of young black girls is fierce early on.

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My earliest memory is at age eleven when a church elder told my parents he could not focus during altar call because he was enraptured by my pubescent derriere (x-xi). Rather than calling out his rapey pedophilic wantonness, I was made to feel shame, as if my body had done something wrong without my consent. I struggled with the cultural psyche around black femininity and all of the sexual messaging, not to mention my own conflicting responses. On one hand, I loved raunchy Hip Hop music that admittedly sexually objectified black women and girls, while on the other, I detested the pedophilic stares of older men and boys in my church and community, and more, the racist and sexist gazing of my new high school friends in California. And as much as these gazes were the same, to me, they felt slightly different. That dreadful day in California changed the course of my life and how I saw the world and interpreted my place in it.

I did everything to change my high school friends’ reading of me—to the point of de-sexualization. I wanted to be a “proper” black girl—a lady in training, as I was taught to be at home and in the Black Church, not a libidinous monkey. This kind of sexualized marking, I had not known. I remember going home and journaling about the incident right after it happened. My eyes welled up with tears as I made my entry. This was not an innocent case of teasing and hurt feelings. As a young girl I was taught that sex before marriage was bad and that sexualization is the fault of so-called “fast” and promiscuous girls or women. Meaning that black girls or women are sexualized because they have acted in an allegedly sexually “loose” manner. I learned the latter was sin. And not only that, this was a transgression seemingly particular to black women and girls.

Full disclosure: I was in no way perfect. But I was a “good girl.” Or at least I tried to be. If I caught myself being “loose”—“fast tailed,” sexual, sexualized, or appreciating base music and lyrics more than a “good girl” should, I could at least fix that. I could take responsibility for where I went or what I did wrong and repent, therefore releasing myself from temptress status and gaining “good girl” prestige again. But not this day. I cried quiet painful tears because the sexualized savagery assigned to me—and black girls everywhere—by my high school friends could not be as quickly remedied. I was not merely hypersexualized but animalized—in harmony. Further, I was inherently problemed. I could neither disrobe of nor cover my blackness nor reencode my black femaleness. And I could neither pray it away nor bathe it in Black Church respectability as I had been taught. Rather, I was indelibly marked. Or, so I thought.

The rhetorical marking of these collective gazes—from the church to my new white friends to my favorite music and so on—made me feel psychically, emotionally, and communally estranged. And I was not alone. I learned later that each of these projections spring forth from essentialist discourses on black womanhood. And while they sometimes feel different, they have more in common than not. They are all overdetermining. And they all sting, just differently perhaps. I will never get over being called a monkey and thusly being situated outside of the human race. But neither will I ever come to terms with the hypersexualization that happens to young girls and women in black communities and the posturing of black female bodies and sexual decision-making in sin—as something needing constant fixing and redemption.

I am convinced it is because of such relentless stereotyping and signifying that black Americans in general are so religious, especially black women. Sin and shame have long taken up residence in our bodies and consequentially our minds. Jezebel Unhinged not only works within these tensions, it attempts to do the work of “undoing,” of naming anxieties, antagonisms, and social-cultural-structural-epistemic evils, and the significant psychic, emotional, and communal breaks they cause. It does this work through an iconoclastic critique of racism, sexism, heterosexism, the Black Church, and black popular culture. And I do so intentionally not as a theologian tasked with proving certain truths about God, but rather as a black feminist scholar of religion, or more precisely, a black feminist-religio-cultural theorist, interested in exploring how discourse, power, knowledge, meanings, language, and grammars get invested with truth claims about God, people, and cultures.

Still, I approached this study as one well aware of my personal and professional location—as one reared in the Black Church and as one who has experienced the collective function of antiblack and sexist re/presentational mythmaking, which affects not only persons but relations, social arrangements, ways of seeing, politics, institutions, and treatment, first hand—within and well beyond the Black Church. That said, I endeavored to do this critical work without “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” The latter is a mistake too many critics make, thus making their analyses irrelevant. (more…)