There is a difference between the transplanting (by exile or dispersion) of a people who continue to survive elsewhere and the transfer (by the slave trade) of a population to another place where they change into something different, into a new set of possibilities. It is in this metamorphosis that we must try to detect one of the best kept secrets of creolization. Through it we can see that the mingling of experiences is at work, there for us to know and producing the process of being. We abandon the idea of fixed being. One of the most terrible implications of the ethnographic approach is the insistence on fixing the object of scrutiny in static time, thereby removing the tangled nature of lived experience and promoting the idea of uncontaminated survival.

                                                                 -- Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse

The more theatrical and dramatic operation by which healing takes place — or does not take place — has a name: transference.  Now transference is still repetition: above all it is repetition. If repetition makes us ill, it also heals us; if it enchains and destroys us, it also frees us, testifying in both cases to its ‘demonic’ power.  All cure is a voyage to the bottom of repetition. [….]  [R]epetition constitutes by itself the selective game of our illness and our health, of our loss and our salvation.

                                                                      -- Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

In this central African healing brotherhood, the word ndotinya -- to cut, as in cutting a palaver, cutting a deal, cutting medicines, cutting oaths, cutting skin -- evokes the sharpness, danger, and ambivalence of medicines. Some cut-in medicines kill; some cut-in medicines heal. Some deaths kill; some deaths heal.

                                                              -- Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon

(Background photo is from Changuu Island/Prison Island outside Stone Town in Zanzibar. Formerly a holding ground for captive Africans to be sold into the Indian Ocean trade, the space has been converted into tourist destination with a hotel, restaurant, pool, and penned-in tortoises. Photo by author 2018.)


Conversions Cartel


cartel |kɑːˈtɛl|



chiefly historical a coalition or cooperative arrangement between political parties intended to promote a mutual interest.

-- Oxford English Dictionary

In October 2018, I will begin animating Conversions Cartel, a virtual working space to discuss short anthropological, historical, and theoretical texts related to the themes of religious conversion and transformation. I plan for this project to be ongoing.

In Fall 2018, we will discuss short selected readings that relate conversion and religious transformation to questions of healing, demise and their concurrence. Among others, authors will include Stefania Pandolfo, James Baldwin, and Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari. (See the full schedule below.)

Virtual meetings will take place weekly via Google Hangouts on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. EST and will last for no more than an hour, and selected readings will be relatively short. Each meeting will include a prepared response to the text (no more than 10 minutes), and the rest of the time will be devoted to collective discussion, with a few minutes devoted to a recap of the conversation at the end. The prepared introduction, along with a short summary of the conversation will be posted here each week, in the "Writing" section.

If you would like to join, please RSVP below. Due to virtual logistics, each meeting will be capped at 25 participants, with people free to leave or join for whatever texts they’d like. All with interest are welcome, regardless of academic background. I only ask that participants read, RSVP, and join the meetings on time.

For more information, please contact me at

Conversions Cartel is sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop on Religion in the Premodern Atlantic.


Healing, Demise, and their Concurrence

Series One, Fall 2018

  • Stefania Pandolfo, Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam (3 weeks -- 7, 14, 21 October)

  • James Baldwin, "Letter from a Region in My Mind" (28 October)

  • T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (2 weeks -- 4, 11 November)

  • Gananath Obeyesekere, Medusa's Hair (2 weeks -- 18, 25 November)

  • Richard Werbner, Holy Hustlers (2 weeks -- 2, 9 December)

  • Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, "Year Zero: Faciality" (16 December)

Knot of the Soul (Introduction + Part 1)
07 oct. 2018 à 15:00 – 16:00
Google Hangouts
Knot of the Soul (Part 2)
14 oct. 2018 à 15:00 – 16:00
Google Hangouts
Knot of the Soul (Part 3)
21 oct. 2018 à 15:00 – 16:00
Google Hangouts
Letter from A Region in My Mind
28 oct. 2018 à 15:00 – 16:00
Google Hangouts