AART Anniversary Symposium celebrates 25 years of African Religious Diaspora Research

October 28, 2021 - Karessa Weir

Joyous drumming, spirited discussion and somber remembrances came together both in person and online to celebrate the mentoring collective and research legacy of the African Atlantic Research Team.

Organized 25 years ago in Boulder, Col., the team was founded and has been lead by MSU Sociology Professor Dr. Jualynne Dodson. Since its inception, the team has seen more than 65 bachelor’s degree, 15 master’s degree and more than 20 PhDs graduate from the program.

“Today’s symposium is, simultaneously, a joyous celebration of the African Atlantic Research Team’s Silver Jubilee, a sincere recognition of Professor Dodson’s highly impactful mentoring across several decades, a deep appreciation for the intellectual and career achievements of AART members and an astute appraisal of the state of knowledge on African Diaspora religions of the Americas,” said MSU Sociology Chair Dr. Aaron McCright as he welcomed symposium participants to the Henry Center Oct. 15.

Dr. Jualynne DodsonAlong with the vast impact of the team, the symposium was also the culmination of the wide-ranging experience and deep knowledge of Dr. Dodson. Since earning her PhD in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, she has worked at a range of higher education institutions: Union Theological Seminary; Yale University; Brown University; University of Colorado, Boulder; Bates College; and finally, Michigan State University.

Professor Dodson was honored with the 2016-2017 A. Wade Smith Award for Teaching, Mentorship, and Service from the Association of Black Sociologists, recognizing a lifetime of achievement nurturing future scholars in academia through impactful mentoring and innovative teaching,

“What Professor Dodson has accomplished through the AART is nothing short of amazing and is testament to her dedication, passion, and perseverance,” Dr. McCright said. “Across the AART’s 25 years, Professor Dodson’s mentoring collective has provided support, encouragement, and growth opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students from cultural communities that historically been excluded from—or marginalized in—higher education in the United States.”

 The event included a keynote address by Dr. J. Lorand Matory of Duke University who spoke on “Slavery in the Heart of Freedom: White American BDSM as a Black Atlantic Religion.”

The morning included the presentation of AART’s books to Talladega College and reflections on the memory and legacy of AART mentor Dr. Charles H. Long lead by Dr. David Carrasco, Harvard University. A Legacy Scholars’ Dialogue between Drs. Dianne Stewart of Emory University, James Sweet of University of Wisconsin and Jualynne Dodson wrapped up the first sessions.

The afternoon featured a live discussion of Emerging Scholars work with Drs. Kyrah Malika Daniels of Boston College, Matthew Pettway of University of South Alabama, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Stanford University, and Shanti Zaid, independent research scholar in Denver.

Following a Rapporteurs’ Assessment with Drs. Véronique Atglas of Queens University and James Spickard of University of California-Redlands, the day concluded with Dr. Dodson’s final thoughts and lively music.

“The idea of the African Atlantic Research Team didn’t come to me from any kind of special place but it was culmulation of some very bad experiences as well as some kind of good experiences,” Dr. Dodson said.

Announcing her retirement to the group, Dr. Dodson challenged them to find out what they can contribute to society as well.

“The question is: what is your contribution? If you aren’t asking the question – and hear well – when I talk about contributing, I already had two children. I knew from the time of a little girl that I had other things to give to the world. That is what this has become. Together in a collective way, we formed it,” Dr. Dodson said. “You have to find your space. I don’t think it is merely in the children you raise but it is intangible contribution that was belayed upon you.”

Photos by MSU Sociology Professor Dr. Steven Gold.