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Free to Be a Slave: Slavery as Metaphor in the Afro-Atlantic Religions

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Scholars tend to regard enslavement as a form of disability inflicted upon the enslaved. This paper confronts the irony that not all black Atlantic peoples and religions conceive of slavery as an equally deficient condition or as the opposite of freedom and other rights that are due to respected human beings. Indeed, the religions of enslaved Afro-Latin Americans and their descendants—including Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban and Cuban-diaspora Ocha (or Santería) and Haitian Vodou—are far more ambivalent about slavery than most scholars and most Black North Americans might expect. In these religions, the slave is often understood to be the most effective spiritual actor, either as the most empowering servant of the supplicant's goals or as the most effective model for supplicants' own action upon the world. These ironies are employed to illuminate the unofficial realities of both the Abrahamic faiths and the North American practices of 'freedom'.

Affiliations: 1: Harvard University, Department of Anthropology, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA, Email:


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