Èṣù's Three-way Crossroads: The Future of Ancestrality in Uncertain Times


Thursday, October 29, 2020, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


This event is virtual, the link will be forthcoming.

Speakers: Luiz Rufino, PhD and scholar at UERJ;

Sidnei Nogueira, Professor of and Coordinator of the Ilê Ará Institute;

Rodney William, PhD, Anthropologist, and babalorixá

Moderated by: Joaquín Terrones, PhD and Lecturer of Literature at MIT

The Crossroads Seminars consist of a year-long series that promote exchanges between intellectuals, artists, and scholars with plural interpretations of local and global themes of Brazil and its place in these uncertain times.

This event will facilitate a conversation between three forefronting intellectuals of a movement that seeks to reconfigure the relationship between terreiros and the academy. In this proposed encruzilhada, modes to extend the ideas and practices that affirm black life and thought within sites of resistance like the terreiro into predominantly white spaces and institutions.

Sponsored by: David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies,The Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Language of Event: Portuguese with simultaneous translation to English.

The event will be public.

More information: https://drclas.harvard.edu/event/%C3%A8%E1%B9%A3%C3%B9s-three-way-crossr...


Speaker Bio(s): Prof. Luiz Rufino is a scholar at UERJ, where he received a Ph.D. in Education, as well as a post-doctorate in Ethnic and Racial Studies. His latest book, Pedagogia das Encruzilhadas, is a groundbreaking work that focuses on radical decolonial practices informed by Afro-Brazilian religious, poetic, and political traditions. Prof. Rufino has also published in Histórias e Saberes dos Jongueiros, as well as co-authored Fogo no Mato: a ciência encantada das macumbas and Flecha no Tempo, both in co-authorship with Luiz Simas.

Prof. Sidnei Nogueira received his Ph.D. in Semiotics and General Linguistics from the University of São Paulo (USP). He was a fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), conducting research on the ways in which traditional Afro-Brazilian religious communities retained the tonality of Yoruba through the use of melodic pitch in their chanting and texts. Currently, he is coordinator and faculty member of Ilê Ará (Instituto Livre de Estudos Avançados nas Religiões Afro-brasileras) as well as leader of the CCRIAS terreiro (Comunidade da Compreensão e da Restauração: Ilé Asé Sàngó).

Dr. Rodney William received his Ph.D. in Social Sciences with an emphasis in Anthropology from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC-SP). He writes a column for the magazine Carta Capital, and has published A bênção aos mais velhos: poder e senioridade nos terreiros de candomblé and Palavras de Axé. His most recent book, Apropriação Cultural, addresses practices of cultural appropriation and value in Brazil. Dr. William is a spiritual leader (babalorixá) of Ilê Obá Ketu Axé Omi Nlá. As a researcher, he is interested in racial and religious connections in Afro-Brazilian religions.

Moderator Bio: Dr. Joaquín Terrones received his Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. His research focuses on contemporary literature and film in the Americas. He is currently working in a book about the representation of disease in Latin American literature and visual culture during the last two decades of the twentieth century. He is a lecturer in Literature at MIT.

Event Description:

In recent times, a segment of academia has come to the realization that its institutions and disciplines currently produce knowledge in ways that are incapable of responding to the crises at hand. Systems of thought that have benefited from and given intellectual support to colonialism and anti-Blackness are being increasingly revealed as symptoms of a long-term project of cultural and environmental depletion. Afro-Atlantic traditions derived from Yoruba religion and philosophy, such as Brazilian Candomblé and Cuban Santería, perceive the present as a fraction of a much broader extension of events—far from being ‘unprecedented,’ world endings are constantly being overcome, and resurgences are always predicted.

By fashioning the structures of modern thought from annihilation, epistemicide has acted as a tentacle of racism. Epistemicide suffocates non-hegemonic modes of existence we might term “polysemic-Exuistic,” after the Yorùbá divinity of movement, possibilities, and transmutation, the one who is a collective and the collective which is one. At the crossroad’s center—a locus of entrances and exits, of multiple choices and re-choosings, convergences and divergences, possibilities—the lord of contradiction, Èṣù turns and issues his strident decolonial cry, calling for a world-sense focused on poly-existences as an alternative to worldviews stranded in the singular self.[3] Our terreiro dialogue will take this crossroad as its starting point.[4] The event aims to bring into the fold, into the roda, forms of knowledge strategically situated at the outskirts of Western culture and history: plural Black poetics and belief systems.[5] Anti-racist struggle and the healing of a sick social body must begin by listening attentively to Èṣù’s cry. Following his lead, we must develop and experience an epistemology of nooks and corners and back alleys, one which might even re-potentiate the Yoruba “Mo wà” – I exist.

Although Candomblé has been the object of anthropological study for more than eight decades, scholars who operate at the crossroads of academia and terreiro communities are now deploying the latter’s theories and methodologies to investigate how whiteness and systemic racism have limited the production of knowledge in the former. Some of that work is taking place within North American academia[4] but the bulk of it is being carried out by Brazilian scholars such as Nogueira, Luiz Rufino, Rodney William, Luiz Antonio Simas, Wanderson Flor do Nascimento, and Muniz Sodre.

This event will facilitate a conversation between three forefronting intellectuals of a movement that seeks to reconfigure the relationship between terreiros and the academy. In this proposed encruzilhada, modes to extend the ideas and practices that affirm black life and thought within sites of resistance like the terreiro into predominantly white spaces and institutions.

[1] Within the large body of theory and scholarship on colonial structures of thought, see Sylvia Wynter’s “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, after Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument” (2003), Grada Kilomba’s Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, and Luiz Rufino’s Pedagogia das Encruzilhadas (2019).

[2] The term “epistemicide” was first coined by Portuguese sociologist Boaventura Sousa Santos. Brazilian philosopher and activist Sueli Carneiro developed the concept to address the systematic destruction of Black thought and culture that accompanies genocidal practices such as police killings and mass incarceration.

[3] In The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (1997), Nigerian theorist Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí proposes “world-sense” as an alternative to the Western concept of worldview and its privileging of the visual.

[4] Terreiros are Afro-Brazilian communities which have preserved and nurtured Black knowledge, philosophy and beliefs since the 17th century.

[5] The roda is the circular formation present in the most prominent forms of Afro-Brazilian knowledge preservation, production, and transmission, such as candomblé, capoeira, and samba. In the roda, members of the community all face each other.