There is and always has been great diversity regarding culture and religious belief on the African continent. However, as Africans were taken from the continent to the New World a great intra-ethnic mixing began to take place. That is to say, due to intra-ethnic mixing during the Maafa, many of the enslaved encountered a number of other African languages and cultures they had never experienced before. As a result, involuntary African migrants began to blend into racial and geographic minorities rather than ethnic groups. Further, as these racial and geographic groups formed another type of diversity began to emerge, African people started to identify as African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans and so forth. Consequently, new types of diversity developed in the New World creating different manifestations of African religious traditions that were established outside the continent of Africa.
One tradition in particular seems to have dominated among the African Traditional Religions (ATR) that survived the middle passage: the Ifa’ tradition. Unfortunately, much of the narrative surrounding the Ifa’ tradition is centered around negative aspects of Voodoo and/or Hoodoo. Yet, the Ifa’ religious system is focused on the oneness of existence and the greatness of human harmony, without which the world would not be able to sustain itself. Moreover, Ifa’ Karade, author of The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, argues that the only major difference between the practice and perception of the Ifa’ tradition in the Old World (Africa) and the New World is confusion regarding the concepts of mysticism and occultism. That is to say, mysticism is a concrete element of the Ifa’ tradition, but in the Americas the narrative of Ifa’/Vodun centered on the occult and its malicious intent. Still, a more open-minded perspective understands the Yoruba Ifa’ religion simply as part of a divine journey into the innerself or spirit.
This is not to say that other African religious traditions did not survive the Maafa because there is evidence of a number of African religious systems carving out their respective sacred space in the New World. However, this is to suggest that because of the expansive nature of the Yoruba people/culture on the continent of Africa and the malleability of the Ifa’ tradition, the Yoruba religion stands out as a spiritual system with widespread influence in the Americas. This is evidenced by a number of Yoruba words and expressions that appear through the Americas: what was once Vodun in medieval Yorubaland became Voodoo in New Orleans or Vodu in Haiti. As well, what was once Ase’ for the Ifa’ became Axe’ in Brazil in the povo do santo. Simply put, the Yoruba religion, as a survivor of the transatlantic trade, is the most pervasive African religion in the world.
To elaborate, outside of the continent of Africa, Brazil has the largest population of Africans anywhere on the planet. Further, within the populace there is the preservation of rich elements of African culture, from the practice of Capoeira to the preservation of African conjure traditions in the form of Candomble’ and Umbanda. These particular spiritual systems combine Yoruba Ifa’ and Portuguese Catholicism in a New World framework. In this context involuntary African migrants developed a powerful belief system that functions both as historical narrative and formidable pharmacopeia. Furthermore, in the Brazilian context, Africans developed entire communities centered on Ifa’ traditional belief, dances, and herbs rather than fully convert to Christianity.
To expound further, the two major religions of Brazil which feature traits of the Yoruba religion are Candomble’ and Umbanda. However, what distinguishes them from one another is that fact that Umbanda uses the Portuguese language in its worship structure, while Candomble’ uses the Yoruba language. These religious structures are not simply Africanisms, they are the Yoruba religion that has expanded as a result of involuntary migration. Obviously, there are differences between the practice of Candomble’/Umbanda and Ifa’ as they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and centuries of interaction, nevertheless the practice of Ifa’ in Brazil in the forms of Candomble’ and Umbanda represent perhaps the most widespread examples of African religious practice in the Americas.
Candomble’ like the Ifa’ tradition is an oral tradition that does not rely on written scripture as Christianity and Islam does. The supreme creator or high god in Candomble’ is Oludumare, the same as the Yoruba religion. As well, Candomble’ practitioners, like those of Ifa’, are reliant on the Orisha to commune with Oludumare. Yet, it is with the Orisha that the differences start illuminating themselves between Yoruba Ifa’ and Brazilian Candomble’. Meaning, in order to keep the tradition in tact some of the names of the Orisha were substituted for Catholic Saints. For instance, Papa Legba is a powerful Loa who is master of the ethereal crossroads and a messenger that can move between the earthly plane and the realm of Oludumare. Through syncretism with Catholicism Legba is represented as Saint Peter because he guards the gates of Heaven, the crossroads between the earthly and heavenly planes.
Furthermore, the Catholic religion, despite its fixed veneer, is particularly conducive to syncretism with perceived polytheistic religions because Catholicism itself is somewhat polytheistic. Meaning, for the Catholic belief system there is the supreme God and underneath this primary deity is a host of male and female Saints who act as intermediaries for God. Consequently, it takes very little mental effort of substitute Saint Peter for Legba because of their respective positions in their pantheons. Similarly, Saint Mary, the mother of Jesus, also has a clear counterpart in Candomble’: Yemoja. Yemoja, like Mary, is the mother-figure, giving birth to a number of deities in the Ifa’ pantheon, as well she is the Saint of mothers, pregnant women and the Goddess of rivers and oceans.
Umbanda is very similar to Candomble’ save for the region it is practiced (southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina) and the language used in worship (Portuguese). Despite the differences in the worship language, Umbanda, like Candomble’ uses Yoruba deities within its pantheon as syncretic subjects; for example, Xango (Shango, the God of Thunder) is John the Baptist and Oxala (Obatala, the creator of the Human form) is Jesus. Furthermore, while the belief system is centered on syncretism much like Candomble’, there is a strong belief in reincarnation within Umbanda that is not as prominent in Candomble’. Regardless of the similarities, both of these traditions have unique traits all their own, adding to the diverse religious landscape of Brazil.
Syncretism in Candomble’ and Umbanda is much more widespread that just two corresponding deities, however, the point here is to illuminate the intimate connection between Candomble’/Umbanda and Ifa’. Again, Africans in Brazil adapted their belief system to fit within the schema of European Catholicism for survival, physical survival as well as cultural survival. Many did convert, but many still simply camouflaged their belief, creating new religious systems by merely combining older ones. Candomble’ and Umbanda practitioners of Brazil are not unique in this process as syncretism is a widely observed phenomenon among Africans in the New World.
 Marimba Ani. Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora. (Nkonimfo Publications, 2004). Maafa is a Swahili expression that means “great disaster”.
 Yvonne P. Chireau. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Traditions. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
 Ifa Karade. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. (Weiser Books, 1994), xi.
 Ibid., xii.
 Ibid., xii.
 Micheal Gomez. Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
 J. Lorand Matory. Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble’. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005), 123.
 Ibid., 123. Candomble’ is mainly an oral religious tradition. However, Umbanda has centered itself as a written tradition developing what is known as the povo do santo.
 Robert A. Voeks. Sacred Leaves of Candomble’: African Magic, Medicine and Religion in Brazil. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).
 Jim Wafer. The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomble’. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 5.
 Ibid., 5.
 Joseph E. Holloway. Africanisms in American culture. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).
 It is not clear if the Piscean persona of Jesus has anything to do with the Candomble’ connection between Yemoja and St. Mary, however it may be a possibility since they share so many other characteristics.
 Graham Dann. “Religion and Cultural Identity: The Case of Umbanda.” Sociological Analysis 30.3 (1979): 213.
The processes and methods of a culture’s ability to survive in a hostile environment is the essence of an African centered analysis. Marimba Ani (formerly Dona Richards) in the article “The Implications of African-American Spirituality”, proclaims, “I shall maintain that Africa survived the middle passage, the slave experience and other trials in America because of the depth and strength of African spirituality and humanism. The spirituality allowed the survival of African-Americans as a distinctive cultural entity in New Europe.” This sentiment is in stark contrast to the belief that Africans were tabula rasa (a blank slate) when encountered by Europeans and therefore needed to be taught culture and were in effect not quite human. However, since Africans were forcefully brought to the shores of the Americas, it is clear they had a firm grip and keen understanding of their culture and the power of their spiritual belief through the phenomenon known as conjure.
The word conjure is not limited to any particular religious belief. Instead, conjure has been known to encompass everything from the practice of Voodoo, to Spiritual Churches and includes innocuous day-to-day individual efforts to control and manipulate the immediate environment. Theophus Smith argues that conjure is a metaphor for the “ritual, figural and therapeutic transformations of culture”; or more simply, conjure is a method of communication, using symbols and symbolic phenomena to interpret, understand and shape the physical and spiritual world. Further, conjure can be employed as a pharmacopoeic agent as well as a mode of prophecy to help predict or control future events. In other words, conjure is an African method of spiritual agency.
Popular understandings of conjure focus almost exclusively on the practice of Voodoo in New Orleans and/or Haiti. However, conjure as a spiritual system encompasses much more than a folksy superstition and can be traced to a variety of belief systems indigenous to the continent of Africa. Moreover, it is a belief system that is practiced in the home, where people (particularly women) use specific items (animal bones, human hair, bottles, crucifixes, and certain metals) combined with distinctive words and gestures for a desired response or outcome. These responses or outcomes are not always as grandiose as prophecy, many times it may include something as trivial as re-growing hair for balding men, being able to get a love interest to take notice or some extra luck at the local gambling establishment. The point of conjure is to make the spiritual world work for you and to form a symbiotic bond with the unseen world.
Historically, the connection between conjure practices and the rituals of mainstream religious belief (Christianity and/or Islam) is undeniable among African Americans. Those forced across the Atlantic brought their beliefs with them and many times maintained knowledge and practice of traditional belief systems by cloaking them behind a veil of Christianity or Islam. This was done because open practice of traditional African belief systems was met by a vicious effort to convert the enslaved. Conversion was nothing less than a mandate to violently strip African peoples of any visages of their culture in an effort to create more docile and manageable individuals who capitulated to authority. However, this effort was quite unsuccessful as African Americans have maintained their beliefs and allowed them to evolve despite the attempts to suppress the African spirit. Albert Raboteau supports: “despite discontinuity and innovation the fundamental religious perspectives of Africa have continued to orient the lives of the descendants of slaves in the New World.”
In order to retain their culture and humanity, enslaved Africans wove their beliefs into the tapestry of their oppressor’s religion as a mode of survival. Africans caught practicing their religions or speaking their language, were many times met with violence. Violence, for European enslavers and settlers, was primarily a method of conversion and control. Despite this, however, Africans created amalgamated religious systems, which synthesized the beliefs of their foremothers and fathers, the philosophies of their enslaved comrades from other African nations and the dogmas of their oppressors in order to simply survive the violent conversion experience. As a result, what exists now in many conjure traditions is a language of religious belief that is thick with complexity.
Further, conjure traditions took on many different forms. Participants use dance, food, songs, masks and spells as methods to communicate with the ethereal world. Some conjure traditions such as Rumba focus on conjuration through dance. Whereas, certain Vodun traditions serve particular deities whom had individual necessities that had to be met before they would act on behalf of an individual or community. Charles Long discusses another type of conjure within his outline of cargo cults in the Americas. In these cults, particular items had to be procured to build and maintain a sense of power. Specifically, cargo cults acquired items from Europeans believing they had certain power that came from the ancestors. Regardless of the specific lineage of a particular tradition, conjure, as a cultural phenomenon, is a dynamic and ever evolving method of spiritual communication that is not restricted to a monolithic approach. As well it is a tool that is used in tandem with other religious beliefs, not only for subterfuge, but to increase the power or effectiveness of the belief.
As African people were being torn from their land and families, culture was all there was to sustain them. More specifically, language, the foundation of all human culture, survived the process of enslavement. This is not an argument for Ebonics (although that perspective is valid), instead, I submit that conjure is a language that allows Africans to communicate amongst themselves as well as the natural and supernatural worlds. This form of communication can be verbal as well as nonverbal (where the body, through dance, gestures and postures communicates certain ideas and/or moods) and ethnically unique from group to group. Further, as a language it has a syntax and vocabulary that has evolved through the experiences of African people and has taken on a variety of forms that support African practitioners in their particular environment. The following series of essays will analyze and discuss different forms of conjure that have grown from West African traditions, through Haiti and New Orleans, to modern day manifestations in North American urban centers.
 Dona Richards (Marimba Ani). “The Implications of African-American Spirituality.” African Culture: Rhythms of Unity. (African World Press: Trenton, New Jersey, 1996), 207.
 Theophus Smith. Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 4.
 Albert J. Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” and the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 75.
 Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow. Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs and Rituals of an African-American Religion. (The University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, 2001), 11.
 Melville J. Herskovits. The Myth of the Negro Past. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990).
 Albert J. Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” and the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 67.
 Ibid., 42.
 Janheinz Jahn. Muntu: African Culture and the Western World. (New York: Grove Press, 1990), 62.
 Karen McCarthy Brown. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
 Charles Long. Significations: Signs, Symbols and Images in the Interpretation of Religion. (Davies Publishing Group: Colorado, 1995), 125-137.
 Ibid., 128-129. This does not suggest that Africans understood or viewed Europeans as deities. Instead, it is congruent with the fact that people (particularly people of color) loose much of their pigment upon death. It is a natural biological process of the cessation of the movement of blood in the body, which causes skin to become pale. Moreover, the coming of the Europeans was seen as a process of renewal. However, Long understands this phenomena as an expectation of the Africans that was never met by Europeans. He states, “The beliefs of the Westerners insofar as they speak of the sacred seem hypocritical, for not only do they not fulfill the structure of expectations related to cosmic renewal but they also fail in the minds of the indigenous people to live up to the new strange beliefs that they teach.”
 Molefi Asante. “The African Essence in African-American Language.” African Culture: Rhythms of Unity. (African World Press: Trenton, New Jersey, 1996), 233.
A Brief Survey of the Sources of Black Esoteric Thought - Spirituality in Hip Hop Part III: The Nuwaubians
As African American religious belief branched out and took on numerous forms during the 20th century, many flocked to alternative spiritual systems in an effort to find answers to the particular and unique absurdities of life in the Americas. Black esoteric groups have provided inimitable answers to the incongruities of American life by redefining and reshaping the images and historical platitudes of White supremacy. Dwight D. York, renamed Malachi Z. York, organized the Nuwaubian Nation to reshape the narrative of White supremacy by using a wide variety of differing belief systems. They argue Black people are not only divine but are otherworldly, and while on this planet they are locked in a mortal battle against other extraterrestrial beings.
York began organizing the Nuwaubians in New York City in the midst of a well-established and diverse array of African American philosophies; in New York the Zulus, 5%ers, Moors, NOI and Garveyites all jostle for ears, minds and territory in already congested space. This may be the reason why York moved the headquarters of his organization to Atlanta, Georgia in 1993. However, law enforcement bodies argue that York was on the run from charges of child-molestation and statutory rape. Still, another theory suggests that York went to Atlanta because he regarded the city as an archetype of the mythical Atlantis, a perfect setting to usher in the next evolutionary stages of humanity. Regardless of the reason for the move, in Georgia York attracted many followers and was able to purchase land where he began building an ancient Egyptian themed compound for his followers.
Like the MSTA, the Nuwaubians refer to themselves as Moors and don the Fez, as well like Noble Drew Ali, York claims to be divinely inspired, a receptacle of celestial knowledge. Further, Nuwaubian narrative of humanity centers on the belief that Earth has been colonized and enslaved by otherworldly beings, and York along with other African American leaders (Elijah Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali, Malcolm X, Father Ali and Yahweh ben Yahweh, to name a few) have been charged to teach the truth about the planet and its inhabitants. To support his ideas and movement, York created a library of booklets and pamphlets called “scrolls” (numbering well over 400) that reference various holy texts (including the Qu’ran, Bible and Torah) and lost books which support the idea of an Earth colonized by malicious reptilians. Additionally, the Nuwaubians share many similar philosophic qualities of other African American esoteric movements of the 20th century, such as: a leader whose beginnings and knowledge base is shrouded in mystery, alternate understandings of the historical record, belief in the inherent divinity of Black people, ancient glory to be regained with a promise of future utopia for Black people.
York was also involved in the music industry during the 1960s, 70s and 80s as a vocalist and a producer with groups: Jackie and the Starlights, the Students and Passion. He eventually organized his own production company called Passion Productions and used music as a vehicle to spread his spiritual influence. While little is known about his artistic endeavors in music, the influence of his movement directly ties into Hip Hop culture through the Atlanta based group OutKast, specifically on their second album ATLiens. To elaborate, the entire motif of this album was steeped in the theology of the Nuwaubians and was a clear departure in artistic and philosophic focus from their debut album Southernplayalisticcadilacfunkymusic. The creative direction unsettled many in the Hip Hop community, arguably because the overall motif and perspective of the Nuwaubians was and is largely unknown. However, close examination of the lyrics and theme of the album reveal a fascinating presentation of Nuwaubian theological understandings. For example, the song Extraterrestrial features the lyrics “out of this world like ET/coming across your TV/Extraterrestrial/straight from ATL”, clearly referencing the beliefs of the Nuwaubians while simultaneously suggesting that there something otherworldly about the Atlanta based group.
To expound further, “Elevators,” the featured song and video of the album, in many ways announced a clear departure from the philosophic direction of the first album by featuring imagery that was replete with Nuwaubian theological symbolic expression. To explain, the motif of the group evolved to display their shift in consciousness: Andre 3000 traded his Atlanta baseball cap for a turban; and their Cadillac, which dominated the motif of the first album, was demolished, making it clear that the group was modifying its paradigm. Moreover, instead of continuing with the parking lot/club playa scenes from the first album, “Elevators” displayed the duo meditating in the forest with others who were also seeking spiritual enlightenment. Finally, all of this was set as the backdrop to a chase scene of sorts, where Andre 3000 and Big Boi are leading a group of Nuwaubian pilgrims searching for a promised-land while being pursued by government agents looking to thwart their efforts. Upon reaching this promised-land, the wayfarers are greeted by extraterrestrials occupying a land dotted with great pyramids. The Nuwaubian trek displayed in this video attempts to project an apocryphal utopia, an appendage consistent with their theological approach.
OutKast was known for altering their motif and philosophy with each album to signify their evolution as artists, however with each offering, traces of their past mindset and artistry lingered, reminding listeners of their growth process. Their Nuwaubian experience also continued on subsequent albums, bleeding through in certain phrases, artistic styles and imagery. Moreover, there are other groups and individuals that have presented the beliefs of the Nuwaubians, such as Erykah Badu, the Roots and Killa Priest, but none as flamboyantly or loudly as OutKast. Again, what this suggests is that there is vibrant spiritual expression within Hip Hop culture yet to be fully explored, that pushes against accepted norms.
 Paul Easterling, “The ‘Nu’ Nation: An Analysis of Malachi Z. York’s Nuwaubians,” Julius H. Bailey, “Sacred Not Secret: Esoteric Knowledge in the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,” Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Simon Guillory and Hugh R. Page, Jr., eds. Esotericism in the African American Religious Experience: “There is A Mystery…”. (Boston: Brill Publishing, 2015), 198-209, 210-224.
 Julius H. Bailey, “Sacred Not Secret: Esoteric Knowledge in the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,” Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Simon Guillory and Hugh R. Page, Jr., eds. Esotericism in the African American Religious Experience: “There is A Mystery…”. (Boston: Brill Publishing, 2015), 210-211.
 U.S. v. Dwight D. York, a.k.a. Malakai Z. York, etc. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, D.C. Docket No. 02-00027-.
 David Cay Johnston, ”Wesley Snipes to go on Trial in Tax Case.” The New York Times, January 14, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/14/business/14tax.html?_r=0. The Nuwaubian compound caught the eyes of many in law enforcement, however, they also attracted many from the entertainment industry, including Wesley Snipes.
 Robert Dannin, Black Pilgrimage to Islam. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 18. Dannin discusses the track of the Fez for the MSTA specifically and African American Islam in general, however, the Moors themselves argues that the head gear is very ancient and is evidence of the Lost City of Atlantis.
 “A Personal Note From The Receiver,” http://holytablets.nuwaubianfacts.com/thereceiver.htm.
 Stephen Finley, “Mathematical Theology: Numerology in the Religious Thought of Tynnetta Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan,” Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Simon Guillory and Hugh R. Page, Jr., eds. Esotericism in the African American Religious Experience: “There is A Mystery…”. (Boston: Brill Publishing, 2015), 123-137. This chapter deals extensively with NOI concept of the Mother Wheel.
 Julius H. Bailey, “Sacred Not Secret: Esoteric Knowledge in the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,” Ibid., 211.
 Malachi Z. York. Are there UFO’s Extraterrestrials In Your Midst. (Atlanta: Free Will Offering, Holy Tabernacle Ministry, 1995), 58. The Nuwaubians believe that Europeans evolved from reptiles. Further, they stake a claim to the planet Earth, while propagating the notion that white people are a group of covert galactic invaders whose ancestry is reptilian, as opposed to mammalian.
 Malachi Z. York "El's Qur'aan 18:60–82, What It Means Today" The Truth (Bulletin), The 7 Heads and the 10 Horns (1993), 12
 Outkast, Speakerboxx/Love Below, “Unfinished,” recorded 2003. Andre 3000 speaks to this point in the song: Unfinished on the double album.
 Outkast. ATLiens, “Extraterrestrial,” recorded 1997.
 Quincy Jones, III, The Art of Organized Noize, documentary release March 21, 2016 (Netflix). This particular song was produced by Andre 3000 and Big Boi, whereas the majority of their production was done by Organized Noize.
 Outkast. Aquemini. “Aquemini,” recorded 1998. Also, some of the clothing worn by Andre 3000 in videos and at award shows there directly influenced by the Nuwaubian Nation.
Written by Paul Easterling
One of the first things that can be noticed by African American scholars of Religious Studies is that there is not much work done by intellectuals of Religious Studies within the realm of Africana Studies. There is much “lip service” paid to the issue of religion and/or spirituality within Africana/Black Studies circles, but there is not much rigorous research done in this realm by Religious Studies scholars. This may be because African American Religious Studies as a discipline is a fairly new and emerging field. However, this may also be because scholars of Africana Studies take for granted the supposed “spiritual” nature of people of African descent. Meaning, it is often remarked that African people are a spiritual people without clarity of what that actually means.
It is to this end that this essay is directed. That is to say, this composition will be the first in a series of essays devoted to the scholarly pursuit of Africana Religious Studies. Though not a formal title, Africana Religious Studies is defined as the scholarly engagement of religions that have been formulated or impacted by people of African descent. To continue, Africana Religious Studies seeks to engage in the academic investigation of religions of the African continent and the African diaspora (Yoruba, Santeria, Voodoo, etcetera) as well as those that have impacted the landmass of Africa and its people (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and so forth). This will be done in an effort to fill an intellectual void within the Africana Studies research community and to bring scholars of African American religion and scholars of Africana Studies into much needed conversation.
To elaborate, leading scholars of Africana Studies do well in directing others toward the pursuit of religious scholarship, but do not have the training to engage in the conversation within Religious Studies. For example, the introductory text, Introduction to Black Studies by Maulana Karenga, devoted an entire chapter to Black Religion, but the author of the text does not have the training to engage Religious Studies. Karenga also published a book entitled MAAT: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt, a worthwhile area of study within the discipline of Africana Studies as well as a much-needed publication, however one that lacks key insight into the language, theories and methods of Religious Studies scholarship.
As well, Karenga’s contemporary Molefi Asante, a scholar who is given much credit for providing the name and shape of Africana Studies as an academic discipline, does well in noting the importance of Africana Religion in his theory of Afrocentricity, but has little training in this area as his expertise is in the field of communications. This is not to overlook the theory of Afrocentricity or the efforts of scholars like Asante and Karenga; however, it is to highlight the need for greater clarification and further research in the area of African American Religious Studies within the discipline of Africana Studies. Further, the point of this is only to highlight one of the major shortcomings of the field of Africana Studies in general and African American Religious Studies in particular, scholarly arenas that have much to say about each other but have not said much to each other as a field of study or as scholars.
It seems a bit odd that scholars of these fields do not converse more, particularly since there is shared interest in the subject matter, that being people of African descent. But this silence is understandable and not completely unique to these fields because of what may be termed as disciplinary unanimity. Meaning, to be an academic discipline that field of study must adhere to the structure it has created for itself. Even for disciplines that claim interdisciplinarity there are bounds, mandates, and structures that must be followed. This is evidenced by the theories and methods created within disciplines. However, having said that, within interdisciplinary fields, there is an expectation or maybe an assumption that these bounds must have certain flexibility to them so as to not become rigid and monolithic, which is the very thing that interdisciplinary disciplines find problematic in traditional disciplines, particularly those of the Eurocentric variety.
Going back to the point of this introductory essay, African American Religious Studies is part of Africana Studies by virtue of its subject matter: African people. Therefore, there must be some effort on the part of both disciplines (Africana Studies and African American Religious Studies) to engage each other in an effort to develop solutions to problems that have and still do plague African people. It matters not if the problem(s) is/are rooted in some sense of spirituality, politics, economics, psychology, law, and so forth, what matters is the past, present and future well-being of African people across the globe.
This series of essays will survey the nature of Africana Religious Studies using the methods of Africana Studies, again, in an effort to bring these academic communities into conversation. Conversely, the methods of African American Religious Studies will be employed to examine aspects of Africana Studies. For instance, borrowing again from Asante these essays will analyze aspects of African American Religious Studies from an African-centered perspective. Some query that may offer relevant conversation: does Janheinz Jahn’s understanding of Muntu have anything to offer Anthony Pinn’s understanding of African American humanism?
On the other side of this argument, Pinn’s understanding of African American humanism can be employed to evaluate the merit of African-centered research and analysis. For example, does Asante’s development of Afrocentricity speak to Pinn’s understanding of African American humanism.  Or, can Karenga’s Kawaida theory answer the “who, what, when, where and why we are” of Pinn’s interpretation of the nature of Black religion. Or are these ideas compatible enough to even come into conversation at all, and if not, why? This dialogue is important for the simple reason that the conversation concerning African/a people has much overlap across academic disciplines, theories and methods. Much has been said about African/a life and culture and Africana Studies has attempted to provide a theoretical starting point (Afrocentricity) as well as disciplinary cohesion to that conversation. Continuing in that effort, this series of essay will bring Africana Studies and African American Religious Studies into academic conversation.
 Maulana Karenga. Introduction to Black Studies. (University of Sankore Press: Los Angeles, 2002), 233-298.
 Maulana Karenga. MAAT: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt. (University of Sankore Press: Los Angeles, 2006).
 Molefi Asante. Afrocentricity: A Theory of Social Change. (Amulefi Publishing Co.: Buffalo, 1980). See also: Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. (Africa World Press: Trenton, New Jersey, 1990). The Afrocentric Idea (Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1998).
 This is something the author of this essay has observed while attending both of the conferences of the Nation Council for Black Studies (NCBS) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR) as well as engaging in conversation with scholars of both fields. To use an analogy: they are like scholarly ships passing in the night, talking past each other but never (or rarely) with each other.
 Janheinz Jahn. Muntu: African Culture and the Western World. (Grove Press: New York, 1990). Jahn’s work centers on literature and linguistics in the African world.
 Anthony Pinn. The End of God-Talk: An African-American Humanist Theology (Oxford Press: New York, 2012). See also: African American Humanist Principles: Living and Thinking like the Children of Nimrod. (Palgrave McMillian: New York, 2004). Terror and Triumph: The Nature of Black Religion. (Augsburgh Forstress: Minneapolis, 2003). Pinn was trained in the study of Religion at Harvard University.