Above: Kameelah Martin dressed in traditional white attire worn by initiates of the Yoruba religion. Initiates wear all white for a year as well as for a week after undergoing the Yoruba initiation. White symbolizes a rebirth. (Photo by Catie Cleveland)
Kameelah Martin, dean of the Graduate School and professor of African American studies and English at the College of Charleston, has spent the last 10 years researching the ancient Yoruba religion of West Africa, a religious practice that came to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. The practice has flourished in places with large Catholic communities like Cuba, a country that is known for having the most pristine practice outside of Nigeria.
On this episode of Speaking Of … College of Charleston, Martin discusses her personal evolution from researcher and scholar to initiate of the Yoruba religion. The experience was a spiritual and professional journey for Martin, who wanted to evolve as a scholar and learn about African spirituality in real time.
In the summer of 2022, after extensive preparation, she traveled to Cuba to participate in the initiation ceremony and undergo the 375-day process as an initiate.
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Featured on this Episode
Kameelah L. Martin is dean of the Graduate School and professor of African American studies and English at the College of Charleston. She joined the College in 2017 and assumed the role of dean of the Graduate School in 2021.
As dean of the Graduate School, University of Charleston, South Carolina, Martin serves as chief administrator and advocate for graduate education. She aims to expand, revise and develop graduate programs that align with the College’s mission and serve the community. She follows national and international patterns and initiatives in graduate education and provides leadership and oversight on recruitment, admissions and academic progress, including a focus on increasing diversity and the visibility of graduate education on campus. She collaborates with program directors to implement policies and curriculum changes that improve graduate student retention, degree completion, professional opportunities and overall success.
Martin holds a doctorate in African American literature and folklore from Florida State University, a master’s in Afro-American studies from the University of California Los Angeles and a bachelor’s in English with an Africana studies minor from Georgia Southern University.
Prior to joining the College, Martin held faculty positions at Georgia State University, the University of Houston and Savannah State University.
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Martin’s research explores the lore cycle of the conjure woman, or Black priestess, as an archetype in literature and visual texts. Other areas of interest include the evolution of 20th century Black folk heroes, the fiction of Tina McElroy Ansa, Gullah Geechee heritage and culture, African American genealogical research and the writing of family histories.
Martin is the author of a number of works, including Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spirit Work, & Other Such Hoodoo, about how African American authors have shifted, recycled and reinvented the conjure woman as a figure primarily in 20th century fiction, and Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema, which explores the priestess figure in American cinema. She also co-edited The Lemonade Reader, an academic look at the work of pop icon Beyoncé.
Martin is a member of the College Language Association, Modern Language Association, National Council for Black Studies, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the African American Historical and Genealogical Society, and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Resources for this Episode
Yoruba Religion of Southwestern Nigeria, SCETV
Brooks, Kinitra, Kameelah L. Martin, and LaKisha Simmons. “Conjure Feminism: Toward a Genealogy.” Hypatia 36, no. 3 (2021): 452–61.
Gleason, Judith, Elisa Mereghetti, Teresita Martinez, Miriam Cruz, Francisco Rivela, and Judith Gleason. The King Does Not Lie. New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 1993.
Martin, Kameelah. “Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema” (2016)
Martin, Kameelah. “Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spiritwork, and Other Such Hoodoo” (2012)