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Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section

In honor of the memory of Karen McCarthy Brown, we share this letter from her colleague, mentee, and friend, Prof. Peter Savastano (courtesy of Prof. Don Consentino):                                                                                        

March 6, 2015 

My Dear KOSANBA Board Members,

             It is with deep sadness that I inform you of the death of Karen McCarthy Brown on Wednesday night, March 4, 2015. She died peacefully in the extended care nursing facility where she lived for the past five years. As many of you know, Karen suffered from a serious form of dementia which rapidly took away her ability to remember, to speak or to express herself except in very minimal ways. 

            Karen was my dear friend, mentor and chaired my dissertation committee. She and I, along with J. Terry Todd and Eugenia Lee Hancock (also deceased), worked very closely together on the Newark Project, located at Drew University from 1994 until 2003, where Karen was Professor of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion and Director of the Newark Project.  Karen was beloved by her students and colleagues. She was an incredible teacher and I will forever be grateful to her for accepting me as her student. Over the years, Karen and I became close friends and collaborators, most especially exploring together the richness of Haitian Vodou in the Diaspora of New Jersey and New York City. There is nothing Karen loved to do more than to dance in honor of the Lwa. I can remember with great fondness dancing with her at many a Vodou ceremony in both New Jersey and New York City, most especially at Mama Lola's "parties" for the Lwa in Brooklyn and at Manbo Jacqueline's "spirit parties" in Irvington, New Jersey. Karen especially loved to be in the company of the Gede Lwa, who would always beeline for her or me, whenever those randy trickster sprits would grace us with their presence and healing antics.

            This past Fall Semester 2014, I taught "West African Derived Religions in the Americas" and assigned Karen's most famous and beautiful book, Mama Lola, A Vodou Priestess In Brooklyn. It had been many years since I read the book yet reading again was like reading it for the first time. I was irresistibly drawn in by its beauty;  its sensitivity to the rich healing capacity of Haitian Vodou; to Haitian culture and history, both in Haiti and in the Diaspora. I remain convinced that while Karen surely benefitted from the recognition and fame writing Mama Lola brought her, she also wrote the book out of deep love and great respect and honor for Mama Lola, Maggie, Marsha and all the members of Alourdes' family, both biological and spiritual.          

            Karen was the kind of anthropologist who never claimed to have a monopoly on objective truth or to have the last word on Haitian Vodou or Haiti's complex history and deep and rich culture. Rather, Karen always tried her best in all she wrote to be intellectually rigorous, but also emotionally honest, speaking always from the heart and with deliberately cultivated sensitivity and compassion for all those she encountered, most especially in describing what she experienced firsthand in the world of Haitian Vodou.  This was the beauty of her heart-engaged methodology. This is the methodology she taught me and all of her students. I shall forever be grateful to Karen for teaching us the important lesson of the "politics of representation": What one writes and how it is written has serious consequences for all involved. Another lesson she taught me and all of her students is to always try to find a biographical parallel in one's own life to the lives of those who grant you permission to study among them; in short, empathy for and identification with the lives of others, most especially for the marginalized and disenfranchised. Karen was in awe of the ability of those Haitians (and others, especially in the LGBTQ community and in communities of women) who have been designated the "other" to nevertheless find ways to spiritually, politically, socially and culturally resist domination and oppression, no matter how difficult their plight.

            Karen was a friend to many of you on the KOSANBA board and she was surely a great friend and supporter of KOSANBA's goals and objectives, the scholarly study of Haitian Vodou. I hope you will all hold her in your prayers and meditations, in whatever way you may engage in such practices.

            While it is true that Karen could not speak and her memory was pretty much obliterated due to her long illness, yet whenever I would visit her one way I could reach her was to sing her Vodou songs. As I sang, she would grow silent and still from her agitation. Her eyes would lock on mine and she would start to gently rock in her wheel chair. I believe that on some very deep level, Karen was connecting with Ginen, the place where she is now, I can only hope and pray, dancing a Banda with the Gede Lwa. Let us together hold a candle of light in her honor and be grateful for her friendship, deep knowledge and love for all things Haitian and most especially for the Haitian people in Haiti and wherever in the Diaspora they may be.

 Ayi Bobo,

Peter Savastano


 We are pleased to announce the publication of Joseph Sciorra's new monograph:


Built With Faith: Italian American Imagination

and Catholic Material Culture in New York City

 Book Cover: Built With Faith

Joseph Sciorra

University of Tennessee Press (384 pages)

27 February 2015 

The Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section will be sponsoring an "Author Meets Critics" panel at the 2015 meeting on this new monograph.


Glenn Hinson and Leonard Norman Primiano are proposing a panel for the 2015 AFS meeting in Long Beach, CA, to be called: The Commerce of Faith. It will explore ethics and outsider representations of faith, looking at the ways that the outsider gaze (conveyed through commercial media, touristic encounter, “artistic representation,  etc.) frames public understandings of belief communities in ways that often egregiously misrepresent beliefs/practices within those communities. The broad issue, of course, is quite familiar; outsider misrepresentation has always plagued communities of faith. In this panel, we hope to explore some of the ethical ramifications of these portrayals, offering case studies that look both inward to the community’s response, and outward to the ways that the misrepresentations, grounding themselves in stereotypes, often serve as tools of social and political marginalization.

If you have a proposal for a paper, please write to:

Glenn Hinson

Leonard Norman Primiano

 The Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section sponsors an annual lecture by a distinguished specialist, forums, and panels at the AFS annual meeting; publishes an annual newsletter for members; sponsors the Don Yoder Prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper in Folk Belief or Religious Folklife and the William A. Wilson Prize for the Best Undergraduate Student Paper in Folk Belief and Religious Folklife; and has an e-mail electronic conference. Membership is $10.


Don Yoder Graduate and William A. Wilson Undergraduate Paper Prizes--Call for Submissions

The Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section of the American Folklore Society invites submissions for TWO student prizes:The Don Yoder Prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper in Folk Belief or Religious Folklife, with an honorarium of $500; and NOW a second prize, the William A. Wilson Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Undergraduate Paper Prize; with an honorarium of $250.

Submissions: All research papers by undergraduate or graduate students, in English, written after January 1 of the previous year (eg, January 1, 2013 for the 2014 Prize), published or unpublished at the time of submission, and written on a folk belief or religious folklife topic, broadly construed, are eligible.

Interested applicants must submit the following materials for consideration: 1. A cover letter specifying the date when the paper was written; the conference, colloquium, or course where the paper has been or will be submitted; or the publication in which it will be published. 2. Entries must be fully footnoted for a reading audience, using Journal of American Folklore citation style. 3. Electronic submissions are preferred, sent to the address below; however, if submitted by mail, please send three copies of the paper, which should be a minimum of 8 pages, and a maximum of 40 pages, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. PLEASE NOTE: To ensure blind judgment of papers, please remove the author's name from the paper. 4. A short (100-word) biographical statement about the author, including the author’s current graduate or undergraduate status, and about the research. 5. A letter or e-mail from a faculty sponsor endorsing submission of the paper.

Deadline: The online and postmark deadline for submissions is September 15. Any materials received after this deadline will not be considered.

Electronic submissions of papers are preferred; papers and supporting documents should be sent as Microsoft Word document attachments or pdf. Printed copies may be sent to the address below; please do not submit faxed items.

Confirmation of receipt for electronic submissions will be sent. One submission per person, please. Previous winners of the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Student Prizes are not eligible; except for winners of the undergraduate student prize, who may later submit a new research paper for the Don Yoder Prize. The papers will be evaluated by three judges who are members of both the American Folklore Society and the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section. The winner will be announced at the Section's business meeting at the Society's annual meeting.

Application materials should be sent to:

Leonard Norman Primiano
Professor and Chair
Department of Religious Studies
Cabrini College
610 King of Prussia Road
Radnor, PA 19087 USA

Section conveners are:

Maggie Kruesi
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20540-4610 USA

Leonard Norman Primiano
Department of Religious Studies
Cabrini College
610 King of Prussia Road
Radnor, PA 19087 USA


Don Yoder Lecture in Religious Folklife

Sponsored by the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section

Leonard Norman Primiano (Cabrini College) and

Margaret Kruesi (American Folklife Center), co-chairs



Henry Glassie (Indiana University, emeritus)

Text and Icon in Religious Art

Leonard Norman Primiano (Cabrini College), discussant



Don Yoder (University of Pennsylvania, emeritus)

Religion and Folk Art: Reflections on Key Concepts in Folklife Studies

Gerald L. Pocius (Memorial University of Newfoundland), discussant



Donald Cosentino (University of California, Los Angeles)

Why Did Gede Let This Happen?: Catastrophe and Theodicy in

21st-Century Haitian Vodou

Glenn Hinson (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and

Kerry Noonan (Champlain College), discussants



William A. (Bert) Wilson (Brigham Young University, retired)

Mormon Folklore: Mormon Folk Religion, or Mormon Vernacular Religion, or

Mormon Religious Folklore? And Who are the Mormons Anyway, and

Do They Have Any Uniquely Identifiable Mormon Folklore?

David J. Hufford (Pennsylvania State University) and

Tom Mould (Elon University), discussants



Elaine J. Lawless (University of Missouri)

What Zora Knew: A Crossroads, a Bargain with the Devil, and a Late Witness

Marilyn M. White (Kean University) and

David Todd Lawrence (University of St. Thomas), discussants



William Westerman (Princeton University)

Epistemology of the Flail and the Politics of Inductive Reasoning



Diane Goldstein (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Kaleidoscopes, Methodological Play, and the Intrinsic Politics of Belief Scholarship

William Westerman (Princeton University), discussant



Sandra Zimdars-Swartz (University of Kansas)

Perceiving the Sacred: Visionaries, Hagiographers, and Portrayals of Religious


Erika Brady (Western Kentucky University), discussant



Don Yoder (University of Pennsylvania, emeritus)

Folk Religion and the Pennsylvania German Broadside

Gerald L. Pocius (Memorial University of Newfoundland), discussant



Gary Laderman (Emory University)

The Cult of Doctors: Harvey Cushing and the Religious Culture of Biomedicine

David J. Hufford (Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine), discussant



Marion Bowman (The Folklore Society; The Open University)

Sacred Spaces in Liminal Places: Airport Chapels and Religion in Transit

Kimberly J. Lau (University of Utah) and

Teri F. Brewer (University of Glamorgan), discussants



David J. Hufford (Pennsylvania State University)

Folklife and the Triumph of Folk Medicine




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