The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic. At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy
Walter C. Rucker
The study of religion and new media explores how the contemporary proliferation of technological devices and digital culture impacts religious traditions. The progressive mediation of religion through websites, social networks, apps, and digital devices has created new conditions for religious experiences, practices, and beliefs. From the diffusion of internet technologies in the mid-1990s, scholars have individuated four waves to describe the evolution of religion and new media: (a) The first wave (mid-1990s–beginning 2000s) is characterized by enthusiasm for the potential of the Internet and the establishment of the first websites dedicated to religion, such as the Vatican official webpage and chatrooms where Neo-Pagans celebrated online rituals. These may be considered examples of “cyber-religion,” a term that indicates religious activities in the virtual space of the Internet, usually called in this period “cyberspace.” (b) The second wave (the mid-late 2000s) involves the growth of religious online presences, and is characterized by more realistic attitudes on the potentials and consequences of internet use. For example, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish virtual sacred buildings have been created on the platform Second Life. At the same time, the virtual congregation Church of Fools attracted both positive reactions and criticism. In this period, scholars often talk about “religion online,” which is the online transposition of activities and narratives of religious groups, and “online religion,” a type of religion that exists mainly because of the increased interconnectivity and visual enhancements of the Internet. (c) The third wave (late 2000–mid-2010s) saw the creation of social network platforms and the proliferation of smartphones. Religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope established social network accounts, and smartphone developed apps for reading sacred texts, praying, and performing confessions. This type of religion is usually called “digital religion,” a concept that indicates the progressive blurring of the line between online and offline religiosity. (d) The fourth wave (the late 2010s) includes online religious groups circulating narratives beyond religious institutions, and greater academic attention to elements such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, politics. This is the case of veiled Muslim influencers who talk about religion in fashion tutorials, and Russian Orthodox women (Matushki) who use blogs to diffuse patriarchal values. The notion of “digital religion” is employed in this period to explore how religious identities, communities, and authorities change in the internet age. Scholars have approached these four waves through the lens of existing media theoretical frameworks, especially mediation, mediatization, and social shaping of technology, and adapted them to the field of religion and new media. While existing scholarship has often focused on Europe and North America, the study of religion and new media is expected to become increasingly global in scope.
Although new religions have a reputation for being intrinsically violent, research shows that they are no more aggressive than the world’s major religious traditions. Memes in popular culture tend to stigmatize adherents of these marginalized groups because of their unusual clothing, habits, lifestyles, and beliefs. Rather than employing the neutral term “new religious movement” (or NRM), journalists and others often use the pejorative label “cults.” Nevertheless, violent outbursts involving members of NRMs have exploded at moments of crisis—or perceived crisis—throughout history. Scholars attempting to identify the factors involved in these eruptions have determined that external as well as internal elements dynamically collide to create conditions that precipitate violent outcomes. Internal causes may include apocalyptic beliefs, charismatic leadership, and social encapsulation. A few groups may develop a worldview that justifies, or even welcomes, the use of violence; they may stockpile weapons for self-defense or develop plans to prepare for a final reckoning. External influences include provocative, aggressive, or combative actions by government authorities prompted by news media and cultural opponents comprising family members and professional anticultists. This outside pressure may trigger violent measures within the group, as leaders and members tighten social controls, quash dissent, and demand unquestioning loyalty in the face of opposition. Since violence is a social relationship in which the actions of each opponent serve to shape the responses of the other, destructive interactions with new religious groups are not inevitable. They may be forestalled when dangerous situations are adequately identified and intelligently addressed through careful investigation, patience, and well-managed negotiations.