Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Africana Studies

First Advisor

Anthea D. Butler

Second Advisor

Jacob K. Olupona


Vodun is an African religion in southern Benin who shares its cosmology and divination system with the Yoruba orisha tradition. Vodun’s historical and cultural influences extend throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Additionally, Vodun is the entanglement of spirit agency and desire with human politics, economics, and sociocultural expectations. In daily life in southern Benin, the fluid interplay between spirits and humans shows ordinary events can become cosmic and cosmic events can become ordinary. How do Vodun practitioners know what they know about spirits? How does the body (trans)form knowledge about causes and effects in the world? This project answers these questions through the examination of personal oral narratives. Vodun praticioners initiated into the Gorovodu and Tchamba orders in Agata and Porto-Novo, Benin provide the narratives. The oral narratives become data to dissect, analyze, and interpret. The uniqueness to these stories speaks to the local, personal, lived, and embodied knowledge mobilizing Vodun epistemology. The consultants’ narrations describe spirits who are actors generating consequential effects. In addition, the consultants describe spirits who have complex emotional lives. Spirit affect catalyzes lived religious practice. The diverse spirit bodies featured in these narratives expand the concept of materiality in Vodun studies. Spirit bodies, especially those the consultants say humans did not create, are trans-corporeal and transphysical. As a result, Vodun has a nonlinear ontological continuum. I argue the materiality of Vodun is best studied through a quantum approach. A quantum approach applies new materialism to the study of lived religion. This approach builds its epistemological location upon indigenous concepts and indigenous forms of knowing. Both embodied knowledge and the speech acts attributed to spirits serve as epistemological resources. Since this method is presence-oriented, it theorizes the agency Vodun practitioners attribute to spirits. A quantum approach examines spirits as affective participants in sociogeographic relationships. The ontological statements embedded in these personal oral narratives expand the conclusions a material study of African religion creates.