Tenth Emeritus Lecture Honoring William A. Shack

Guest Speaker James L. Matory


J. Lorand Matory is professor of Anthropology and of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. He researches the diversity of African, African-American and Latin American cultures, with an emphasis on how differently various peoples understand gender, sexuality, class, race, and national identity.

Professor Matory began his anthropological career studying gender and the politics of metaphor in the Yoruba civilization of West Africa, which are the subject of his book Sex and the Empire That Is No More (University of Minnesota Press, 1994). It was noted by Choice magazine as one of the outstanding scholarly books of the year. His forthcoming book, Black Atlantic Religion (Princeton, 2001), concerns the role of free black travelers, merchants, and writers in the making of such Yoruba-inspired religions as Candomble and "Santeria," which have typically been regarded as mere "survivals" of African culture in the Americas. Matory's further recent publications address the rapid penetration of such Afro-Latin religions into the U.S. urban landscape.

Professor Matory's latest and most controversial project concerns the tension-fraught ethnic diversity of black North America. The Other African Americans concerns dark immigrants from Jamaica, Nigeria, Cuba and other nations, as well as Americans of African descent who have not always considered themselves black--such as mulattoes and biracials, Louisiana Creoles, New Jersey's Ramapo Mountain people, and numerous Native American tribes east of the Mississippi. Their experience is taken to illustrate how the most naturalized of U.S. social categories, "blackness," has been subject to continual negotiation, reinterpretation, and internationally-inspired cultural elaboration over the past two centuries. This book is also intended to challenge the unexamined premises of the "identity" concept articulated in both the academy and U.S. popular culture since the 1960s.Matory grew up in Washington, D.C., but, as an anthropologist, came of age through years of residence in Nigeria and Brazil. He earned his A.B. in anthropology from Harvard in 1982 and his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1991. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton before returning to Harvard. He has won numerous fellowships and awards in support of his scholarly research, including a Fulbright-Hays fellowship (Department of Education), a Social Science Research Council grant for field research, and a Fellowship for University Teachers from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been an associate editor of the leading anthropology journal, American Ethnologist, and continues to serve on the advisory board of GLQ, a Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, as well as the editorial council of Brazilian flagship journal of black studies, Afro-Asia.

He is married with two children and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1991

M.A., Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1986

B.A., Anthropology, Harvard University, 1982 -- Magna Cum Laude


1998 - Present:
Professor of Anthropology and Afro-American Studies, Harvard University

1995 - 1998:
Hugh K. Foster Associate Professor of Anthropology and Afro-American Studies, Harvard University

1991 - 1995:
Assistant Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Afro-American Studies, Harvard University


My two years of field research in Nigeria and the People's Republic of Benin (1982-83, 1986, 1988-89) have led to the publication of a book entitled Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion (University of Minnesota Press, 1994). It concerns the changing but still central role of female and transvestite male possession priests in the Yoruba political order of the past two centuries. A year and a half of field research in Bahia (Salvador and liheus), Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo has given me a fundamental understanding of the rites, beliefs, and organization of the Candomble, as well as the controversies that surround it in the Brazilian academic community and the larger society. I have conducted numerous interviews with priests, observed a range of public and private rites in a dozen temples, and studied newspaper, missionary, and governmental archives documenting the history of the Candomble. This research has led to the publication of an article on the African and Brazilian symbolism, as well as the local material conditions, of male homosexual leadership in the Afro-Brazilian religions (Matory1988) and a book manuscript entitled The Trans-Atlantic Nation: Tradition. Transnationalism and Matriarchy in the Rise of the Afro-Brazilian Candomble, under contract with Princeton University Press. It concerns Afro Brazilian history, the ritual construction of personhood, and a nationally important dialogue between the Candomble and other Brazilian discourses about collective identity. It is also a companion volume to my first book, intended to illuminate the study of cultural diasporas and the importance of historical and socio-political context in the study of "African" culture in the Americas. In order to reduce the original manuscript to a publishable size, I removed several detailed ethnographic chapters, which, in due time, will become the core of a separate book.

The Trans-Atlantic Nation and its ethnographic twin are part of an overall trajectory that leads homeward. I have presented several lectures and written a preliminary 75-page draft of the subsequent book--The Other African Americans . It will address the identities, cultures and political strategies of various ethnic groups of African origin or descent in the United States who have sometimes resisted assimilation to the "Negro/Black/African-American" legal and political category. These ethnic groups include Nigerian, South African, Cape Verdean, and Jamaican immigrants, Louisiana Creoles, various "tri-racial isolates" in the South, and many Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. Ironically, these groups have also, at times, exercised a disproportionate influence upon African-American culture and politics.

The next book will be a collaborative effort with my wife, a presidential protocol officer during the rule of Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida. We have planned it as a culturally sensitive account of the inner workings of the dictatorship that ruled Africa's largest nation from 1985 to 1993. It is intended both as a corrective to standardized journalistic and political science clichÈs about the nature of autocracy and corruption in Africa and as a historical study of the genesis of Nigeria's current political crisis.

In between these major projects, I would like to undertake the translation of several important books on African-American religions into English. Among these books are Raimundo Nina Rodrigues' L'animisme fetichistedes scares de Bahia (1900) and Fernando Ortiz's Los Negros Brujos (1906). One might think that such translation work is better suited for non-scholars or persons in other disciplines, but I have found that the vocabulary specific African-American religions requires translation by specialists, and the vocabulary of writings influenced by old-fashioned anthropology requires careful annotation.

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