Concluding My Service to the Journal of Africana Religions

After a decade of work to create a viable journal devoted to the study of religion in Africa and the African diaspora, I told my board last week that I was ready to step down. It is a good time for me to do so since the journal is in an incredibly strong position. In addition to co-founder Sylvester Johnson, its editorial team now includes Monique Bedasse, Danielle Boaz, Youssef Carter, S. N. Nyeck, and Jeremy Rehwaldt.

Sylvester Johnson and I gave out free t-shirts and pens as part of our marketing efforts.

The journal emerged out of my intellectual collaboration with Sylvester Johnson, whom I met in 2000. We appeared on an American Academy of Religion annual meeting panel celebrating and critiquing the work of the great C. Eric Lincoln. (Stephen Ray and the late Mary Sawyer were on that panel, too.) I did not know at the time that we would eventually get jobs so close to one another.

In 2005, I landed my job at the IUPUI Department of Religious Studies and in 2006, Prof. Johnson was appointed associate professor at IU Religious Studies. We swapped ideas, attended each other’s talks, and worked together on an Indiana University Press book, The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religions. One day around 2011–we may have been at the WonderLab Museum with our kids–we came up with the idea for the journal, an academic outlet that would focus on religion in both Africa and in the global African diaspora.

Reaching out to thirty-five other scholars who were experts in African, U.S. African American, African European, and African Latinx and Caribbean religions, we sought the advice of a group that was roughly half women and half men, one that included historians, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, Black studies scholars, and sociologists. The positive response of these scholars was immediate and reassuring, and we relied on their support and advice to design a full proposal for a journal that would embody, advocate, and develop an Africana purview on religion.

We asked for the official sponsorship of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora, and after exploring various publication options, we signed a contract with Penn State University Press. Prof. Johnson then moved to the Department of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, which became the journal’s first editorial office. Both of us pledged our labor and significant financial support from our own research budgets toward the launch of the journal and its operation during the first five years. The first issue, a which featured articles from seven board members, was published in 2013.

That was many issues ago. Now readership seems to double every year. In 2020, for example, Project Muse readership was up 158 percent. On JSTOR, tens of thousands of people are accessing the journal per year. It is a joy to see the journal do so well, and I am grateful that my position at the IU School of Liberal Arts gave me the opportunity to help launch such an important venture.