Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús Is New Assistant Professor of African American Religions

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Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, a Stanford University scholar of social and cultural anthropology and of Africana and Latino/a studies, has been appointed Assistant Professor of African American Religions, effective July 1, 2009.

"We are delighted to welcome Aisha Beliso-De Jesús to Harvard," said Dean William A. Graham. "Her strong anthropological skills and her work in Cuban Santería within the study of African American religious traditions will bring important new offerings to our curriculum."

Her hands-on research with Santería practitioners has taken her to, among other places, Miami, San Francisco, New York City, and Havana, Cuba, where she studied travel, religious tourism, return dynamics, and the uses, practices, circulation, and consumption of religious media. In 2003, she spent four months in San Jose, California, with Latina women who were recovering substance abusers enrolled in the Women's Wellness Substance Abuse Program.

"Harvard Divinity School is known for its commitment to critical inquiry coupled with its respect and sensitivity to understanding religious experiences from many different perspectives," Beliso-De Jesús said. "The dynamic environment, impressive students, and brilliant faculty all draw me toward HDS as a wonderful place to continue my own work as an anthropologist and religious practitioner of Afro-Cuban Santería."

For nearly 16 years, she has been active in numerous community service efforts and is a frequent public speaker, advocating education and nonviolence for youth. Since 2007, she has served as a volunteer consultant for HOMEY SF, a gang prevention, community-based organization, where she provides public policy analysis, strategic consultations, community advising, and workshops for high-risk San Francisco youth. Some of Beliso-De Jesús's areas of teaching and research include: Africana and the African Diaspora; anthropology of the Caribbean and Latin America; postcolonial theory; studies and ethnography of the Internet; and commodification of culture.

Beliso-De Jesús will receive her PhD from Stanford in June 2009, and her dissertation, "Becoming Santería: A Transnational Study of Cultural Politics, Media and Religion in Cuba and the United States," examines the interrelated cultural politics by which Santería and Ifá religious practices are reinvented, circulated, and transformed through transnational processes, travel, tourism, consumption, and media between the United States and Cuba. By emphasizing the longevity of transnational practices, this project historicizes commonly overlooked assumptions and truths on Santería, Africa, and Latinos in the United States.

"The move by Harvard Divinity School to take these religious practices and emerging body of knowledge seriously is, I believe, a crucial one that will set new standards across both religious and theological studies, as well as anthropology," Beliso-De Jesús said. "I am committed to this revisionist as well as transformative scholarly engagement and hope to bring a perspective where students who are interested in exploring new ethnographic perspectives of religion, as well as African diasporic religious experiences will be able to develop their own methods for research and study. As an anthropologist, I will offer classes on ethnographic methods of religious experiences, African diaspora religions, and critical theories of race, gender, and sexuality."