The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion

University of Chicago Press
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Over a lifetime of studying Cuban Santería and other religions related to Orisha worship—a practice also found among the Yoruba in West Africa—Stephan Palmié has grown progressively uneasy with the assumptions inherent in the very term Afro-Cuban religion. In The Cooking of History he provides a comprehensive analysis of these assumptions, in the process offering an incisive critique both of the anthropology of religion and of scholarship on the cultural history of the Afro-Atlantic World. Understood largely through its rituals and ceremonies, Santería and related religions have been a challenge for anthropologists to link to a hypothetical African past. But, Palmié argues, precisely by relying on the notion of an aboriginal African past, and by claiming to authenticate these religions via their findings, anthropologists—some of whom have converted to these religions—have exerted considerable influence upon contemporary practices. Critiquing widespread and damaging simplifications that posit religious practices as stable and self-contained, Palmié calls for a drastic new approach that properly situates cultural origins within the complex social environments and scholarly fields in which they are investigated.
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About the author

Stephan Palmié is professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition, and, most recently, coeditor of The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples, also published the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 14, 2013
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Pages
344
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ISBN
9780226019734
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Caribbean & West Indies / Cuba
Religion / Ethnic & Tribal
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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In Wizards and Scientists Stephan Palmié offers a corrective to the existing historiography on the Caribbean. Focusing on developments in Afro-Cuban religious culture, he demonstrates that traditional Caribbean cultural practices are part and parcel of the same history that produced modernity and that both represent complexly interrelated hybrid formations. Palmié argues that the standard narrative trajectory from tradition to modernity, and from passion to reason, is a violation of the synergistic processes through which historically specific, moral communities develop the cultural forms that integrate them.
Highlighting the ways that Afro-Cuban discourses serve as a means of moral analysis of social action, Palmié suggests that the supposedly irrational premises of Afro-Cuban religious traditions not only rival Western rationality in analytical acumen but are integrally linked to rationality itself. Afro-Cuban religion is as “modern” as nuclear thermodynamics, he claims, just as the Caribbean might be regarded as one of the world’s first truly “modern” locales: based on the appropriation and destruction of human bodies for profit, its plantation export economy anticipated the industrial revolution in the metropolis by more than a century. Working to prove that modernity is not just an aspect of the West, Palmié focuses on those whose physical abuse and intellectual denigration were the price paid for modernity’s achievement. All cultures influenced by the transcontinental Atlantic economy share a legacy of slave commerce. Nevertheless, local forms of moral imagination have developed distinctive yet interrelated responses to this violent past and the contradiction-ridden postcolonial present that can be analyzed as forms of historical and social analysis in their own right.
Combining fertile soils, vital trade routes, and a coveted strategic location, the islands and surrounding continental lowlands of the Caribbean were one of Europe’s earliest and most desirable colonial frontiers. The region was colonized over the course of five centuries by a revolving cast of Spanish, Dutch, French, and English forces, who imported first African slaves and later Asian indentured laborers to help realize the economic promise of sugar, coffee, and tobacco. The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples offers an authoritative one-volume survey of this complex and fascinating region.

This groundbreaking work traces the Caribbean from its pre-Columbian state through European contact and colonialism to the rise of U.S. hegemony and the economic turbulence of the twenty-first century. The volume begins with a discussion of the region’s diverse geography and challenging ecology and features an in-depth look at the transatlantic slave trade, including slave culture, resistance, and ultimately emancipation. Later sections treat Caribbean nationalist movements for independence and struggles with dictatorship and socialism, along with intractable problems of poverty, economic stagnation, and migrancy.

Written by a distinguished group of contributors, The Caribbean is an accessible yet thorough introduction to the region’s tumultuous heritage which offers enough nuance to interest scholars across disciplines. In its breadth of coverage and depth of detail, it will be the definitive guide to the region for years to come.
In Wizards and Scientists Stephan Palmié offers a corrective to the existing historiography on the Caribbean. Focusing on developments in Afro-Cuban religious culture, he demonstrates that traditional Caribbean cultural practices are part and parcel of the same history that produced modernity and that both represent complexly interrelated hybrid formations. Palmié argues that the standard narrative trajectory from tradition to modernity, and from passion to reason, is a violation of the synergistic processes through which historically specific, moral communities develop the cultural forms that integrate them.
Highlighting the ways that Afro-Cuban discourses serve as a means of moral analysis of social action, Palmié suggests that the supposedly irrational premises of Afro-Cuban religious traditions not only rival Western rationality in analytical acumen but are integrally linked to rationality itself. Afro-Cuban religion is as “modern” as nuclear thermodynamics, he claims, just as the Caribbean might be regarded as one of the world’s first truly “modern” locales: based on the appropriation and destruction of human bodies for profit, its plantation export economy anticipated the industrial revolution in the metropolis by more than a century. Working to prove that modernity is not just an aspect of the West, Palmié focuses on those whose physical abuse and intellectual denigration were the price paid for modernity’s achievement. All cultures influenced by the transcontinental Atlantic economy share a legacy of slave commerce. Nevertheless, local forms of moral imagination have developed distinctive yet interrelated responses to this violent past and the contradiction-ridden postcolonial present that can be analyzed as forms of historical and social analysis in their own right.
Combining fertile soils, vital trade routes, and a coveted strategic location, the islands and surrounding continental lowlands of the Caribbean were one of Europe’s earliest and most desirable colonial frontiers. The region was colonized over the course of five centuries by a revolving cast of Spanish, Dutch, French, and English forces, who imported first African slaves and later Asian indentured laborers to help realize the economic promise of sugar, coffee, and tobacco. The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples offers an authoritative one-volume survey of this complex and fascinating region.

This groundbreaking work traces the Caribbean from its pre-Columbian state through European contact and colonialism to the rise of U.S. hegemony and the economic turbulence of the twenty-first century. The volume begins with a discussion of the region’s diverse geography and challenging ecology and features an in-depth look at the transatlantic slave trade, including slave culture, resistance, and ultimately emancipation. Later sections treat Caribbean nationalist movements for independence and struggles with dictatorship and socialism, along with intractable problems of poverty, economic stagnation, and migrancy.

Written by a distinguished group of contributors, The Caribbean is an accessible yet thorough introduction to the region’s tumultuous heritage which offers enough nuance to interest scholars across disciplines. In its breadth of coverage and depth of detail, it will be the definitive guide to the region for years to come.
Since the 1950s, anthropologist Sidney W. Mintz has been at the forefront of efforts to integrate the disciplines of anthropology and history. Author of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History and other groundbreaking works, he was one of the first scholars to anticipate and critique "globalization studies." However, a strong tradition of epistemologically sophisticated and theoretically informed empiricism of the sort advanced by Mintz has yet to become a cornerstone of contemporary anthropological scholarship. This collection of essays by leading anthropologists and historians serves as an intervention that rests on Mintz's rigorously historicist ethnographic work, which has long predicted the methodological crisis in anthropology today.

Contributors to this volume build on Mintzean interdisciplinarity to provide productive ways to theorize the everyday life of local groups and communities, nation-states, and regions and the interconnections among them. Consisting of theoretical and case studies of Latin America, North America, the Caribbean, and Papua New Guinea, Empirical Futures demonstrates how Mintzean perspectives advance our understanding of the relationship among empirical approaches, the uses of ethnographic and historical data and theory-building, and the study of these from both local and global vantage points.

Contributors:
George Baca, Goucher College
Frederick Cooper, New York University
Virginia R. Dominguez, University of Illinois
Frederick Errington, Trinity College
Deborah Gewertz, Amherst College
Juan Giusti-Cordero, University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Aisha Khan, New York University
Samuel Martinez, University of Connecticut
Stephan Palmie, University of Chicago
Jane Schneider, City University of New York Graduate Center
Rebecca J. Scott, University of Michigan



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