Accepted Paper:

Santería 'from Cuba into the world': the dynamics of transnational religious activity  


Claudia Rauhut (Freie Universität Berlin )

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on transnational religious networking in Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion based on Yoruba traditions. Practitioners living outside the island have to return to Cuba for ritual obligations. New social and economic dynamics appear and cause conflicts within the local religious sphere.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on strategies of transnational religious networking in Santería, an Afrocuban religion based on Yoruba traditions. Since the socioeconomic changes of the 1990s and the opening process of the Cuban government Santería is expanding all over the Atlantic world by migration, global networks of science, the culture market and tourism. Santería practitioners (both Cubans and non-Cubans) living in other parts of the world are strongly connected to their Cuban-based ritual families because of reciprocal ritual linkages. These make them periodically return to the island to keep up with their religious obligations. Therefore local religious practice is more and more taking place in transnational spaces and is becoming an important factor connecting Cuba to the rest of the world. This might be a way for both individuals and state institutions to overcome the island's political and economical isolation.

The paper shows on the one hand how the informal as well as the official commercialization of Santería as an object of consumption has contributed to the appearance of new global actors and dynamics such as those of religious tourism. On the other hand it analyzes how Santería priests are building transnational networks while remaining in Cuba, how they incorporate "foreign capital" and how they compete with other priests but also with state institutions over "religion", turning it into a resource convertible into social, political and economic capital.

Unequal access to the flow of resources from transnational connections produces rivalry and distancing discourses with regard to ethical principles of the religion and to economic power in the local religious sphere. The central question therefore seems to be to what extent religious activity carried out between Cuba and the "Cuban Diaspora" in a larger sense is simultaneously causing and ensuing from both socio-economic polarization or change and ideological conflicts in contemporary Cuban society.

Panel W005
Islands of Doom, Islands of Bliss: revisiting maritime places of conquest and exploitation, pleasure and consumption