Spiritual Citizenship

Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad

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N. Fadeke Castor
  • Durham, NC: 
    Duke University Press
    , November
     2017.
     256 pages.
     $24.95.
    ISBN
    9780822368953.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

When most American readers hear the phrase “Black Power,” they probably think of Malcolm X or the Black Panthers. Perhaps they recall the name Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), the prominent Trinidadian-born leader of the US Civil Rights Movement who heralded the shift toward a less accommodating stance in the late 1960s. His Caribbean birthplace might hint at the fact that Black Power had influences and consequences beyond the borders of the US, raising questions about a lesser-known transnational phenomenon of Black Power. N. Fadeke Castor’s Spiritual Citizenship tells this important story, tracing the contours of Trinidad’s Black Power movement/revolution. In this narrative of Black Power, Canada and Nigeria are more central than the US, and the heroes of the movement are probably unknown to most Americans. Yet it is in Trinidad that this profoundly transnational and non-US-centric Black Power movement came closest to being a revolution in the traditional sense of an overthrow of the state apparatus. It is also in Trinidad that what is now called “African traditional religion” would play an absolutely central role in Black Power politics.

Castor focuses on these spiritual dimensions of transnational Black Power, most particularly the Nigerian-based lineages of Ifá that have taken root in Trinidad since the 1970s. The central thesis of the work extends an insight that should be familiar to scholars of pan-Africanism or the Black Atlantic: the African diaspora has been a resolutely transnational (or to use Paul Gilroy’s term “outer-national”) formation that exceeds the framework of the modern nation-state. Castor applies this insight to religion, advocating for transnational “spiritual citizenship” as another form of “black internationalism.” Castor thus argues that citizenship exists beyond the nation-state and that religion can be the basis for transnational polities (11). In so doing, Castor grapples with the legacy of Black Nationalism after struggles for political revolution and national sovereignty (in the traditional senses of those terms) have largely evaporated. Castor argues that spiritual citizenship provides a means for conceiving of black nationalism beyond the framework of national liberation struggles.

While the book focuses on the spiritual legacies of Black Power, Castor also traces Ifá’s current positioning within the framework of postcolonial multiculturalism. In her chapter, “Multicultural Movements,” Castor details the manifestations of “Black cultural citizenship” within the contemporary politics of state recognition in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad, it should be remembered, is composed of roughly equal numbers who claim South Asian descent or African descent (with people who might also identify as mixed, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Amerindian, White, Portuguese, and/or French Creole). Political divisions are often assumed to follow the principal ethno-racial divide between the “African party” and the “Indian party.” Castor details what might seem like an unlikely alliance between African religions and the “Indian party.” She astutely shows how this alliance is an attempt to subvert Christian Afro-creole political and cultural hegemony (this same Afro-creole political class suppressed the island’s 1970 Black Power Revolution). Religion trumps race as Hindus and devotees of African religion work to forge a space for non-Christian traditions in spheres of national culture. Trinidad thus provides a profoundly interesting case study of the ways that religious identifications can exceed not only the framework of the nation-state but also the assumed limits of subaltern racial categories. 

This book is an important text for those interested in Black Power, Afro-Caribbean religions, or the politics of authenticity and state multiculturalism. Castor’s monograph is written in an accessible style, and I have taught the text to upper-division undergraduates. These students, however, did express the need for greater background on Yoruba-based religious traditions and Trinidad’s complex religious and political context. It might be helpful then to pair Spiritual Citizenship with excerpts from the documentary on Trinidad’s Black Power Movement, ’70: Remembering a Revolution, or with an introductory article on Yoruba-inspired transnational religion. Castor’s focus on “Yoruba-centric” Ifá (in particular one shrine in northern Trinidad) also led students to desire a broader background on grassroots African religions in Trinidad that are not a part of Ifá lineages. If paired with some other materials, this book provides an essential teaching text on questions of multiculturalism, citizenship, race, and religion. Its engaging writing style on these timely issues and its focus on the under-studied (but fascinating) religious context of Trinidad make Spiritual Citizenship a must-read. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

J. Brent Crosson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

Date of Review: 
October 30, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

N. Fadeke Castor is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at Texas A&M University.

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