Where Men Are Wives and Mothers Rule
Santería Ritual Practices and Their Gender Implications

Mary Ann Clark

Foreword by Stephen W. Angell and Anthony Pinn, Series Editors
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"A brilliant book and a significant contribution to Caribbean religions which explores issues of gender through the lenses of the religious beliefs and practices of Santería. . . . this book is a must for students of African and Caribbean religions and culture."--Leslie G. Desmangles, Trinity College

While much theological thinking assumes a normative male perspective, this study demonstrates how our ideas of religious beliefs and practices change in the light of gender awareness. Exploring the philosophy and practices of the Orisha traditions (principally the Afro-Cuban religious complex known as Santeria) as they have developed in the Americas, Clark suggests that, unlike many mainstream religions, these traditions exist within a female-normative system in which all practitioners are expected to take up female gender roles.

Examining the practices of divination, initiation, possession trance, sacrifice, and witchcraft in successive chapters, Clark explores the ways in which Santeria beliefs and practices deviate from the historical assumptions about and the conceptual implications of these basic concepts. After tracing the standard definition of each term and describing its place within the worldview of Santeria, Clark teases out its gender implications to argue for the female-normative nature of the religion. By arguing that gender is a fluid concept within Santeria, Clark suggests that the qualities of being female form the ideal of Santeria religious practice for both men and women. In addition, she asserts that the Ifa cult organized around the male-only priesthood of the babalawo is an independent tradition that has been incompletely assimilated into the larger Santeria complex.

Based on field research done in several Santeria communities, Clark's study provides a detailed overview of the Santeria and Yoruba traditional beliefs and practices. By clarifying a wide range of feminist- and gender-related themes in Cuban Santería, she challenges the traditional gendering of the religion and provides an account that will be of significant interest to students of Caribbean studies and African religions, as well as to scholars in anthropology, sociology, and gender studies.

Mary Ann Clark is an independent scholar who received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Rice University.

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…thorough and rich in historical detail…a history not only of Cuban religion but of Cuban racism, two areas of research that have been contentious, at times denied, and often highly controversial…refreshing…admirable…current, comprehensive, useful, informative, and thorough in its detail on many aspects of religious practice, and thus it will gain a well-deserved place within the rapidly increasing corpus of literature on this religion as it is practiced in North America.
--Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

This book does a service to the scholarship of Afro-Cuban religion.
--Journal of Latin American Studies

Mary Ann Clark deserves praise for being the first to address the issue of gender in Cuban Santería at length and for analyzing the ways in which Santería constructs its ideal religious subjects…her book succeeds in breaking a path to greater awareness of what Santería's complexly gendered ritual system can offer both researchers and coreligionists.
--New West Indian Guide

…beautifully crafted… …detail(s) the ways in which Santeria destabilizes the binary terms of male and female through the key components of its practice-destiny and divination, initiation, possession, and sacrifice.
--Journal of Church and State

…a fine study, clearly and cleanly written, suggestive, and in general ethnographically accurate.
--Journal of Religion

…establishes a landmark in the Academic fields of Religious Studies and Gender Studies by providing the first book-length treatise devoted exclusively to the role of women in Afro-Cuban Lukumi--a religion known to most outsiders as "Santeria."
--Caribbean Studies

…a fine study, clearly and cleanly written, suggestive, and in general ethnographically accurate.
--The Journal of Religion

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