The Dean’s Lecture Series takes faculty expertise and knowledge from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences into the community in an ongoing effort to foster closer connections, share intriguing and timely information, and inspire conversation.

Santería Decoded: An Approach to Understanding the Formation of an Afro Cuban Religion

Dr. Hugo Garcia, Associate Professor, Department of Modern & Classical Languages

Winter 2018

The Regla de Ocha-Ifá, better known as Santería, is a religious system that emerged in Cuba as a result of the survival of the religions and cultures brought with the African Yoruba groups as they intertwined with Spanish Catholicism. It is common nowadays to find the word ‘syncretism’ used to refer to the hybrid collection of this religious system. But how does one achieve a syncretic religion? How can religious beliefs of two dissimilar worlds be combined and merged? These are the questions Professor García will try to answer.

In the 18th century Cuba became an important producer and exporter of cane sugar. The large number of sugar cane plantations and mills that supported this new role for the small colonial island was an agro-industrial reality that demanded a great deal of slave labor. The slave trade that sugar generated brought to Cuba hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans who, against the odds, managed to negotiate the survival of their cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The contribution of these slaves to the Cuban culture is essential and impossible to understate even today. Professor García will propose a methodology to decode and understand the different ways in which religious elements of African origin, especially Yoruba, merge with the Catholic religion and the symbolic colonial world.

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