Dorcas Dennis

2023 Crossroads Research Fellow


Dr. Dorcas Dennis holds a Ph.D. from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Africana Religions at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her research generally explores the history of sub-Saharan African Indigenous Religions, their encounters with Christianity and Islam, their expressions in the old and new diasporas (the Americas and Australia), and intersections with migration, health, race, justice, identity, gender, and the media. As an anthropologist of Religion, Dr Dennis engages both traditional and digital ethnographic tools in her research.


Crossroads Research Fellows Project

Spirituality, Crime, and Justice: Embodied Vodou Discourse on Crime and the Performance of Criminal Justice in South Florida

This research seeks to investigate, analyze, and document how Haitian Vodou discourse and praxis of some Haitian migrants in Miami, South Florida, USA, function to prevent and combat crime and dispense criminal justice in the Haitian migrant community. The project will also investigate how Vodou thrives under the weighty impact of public prejudice and the tendency to criminalize some of its practices in South Florida.

Haitian migrants who practice Vodou in Miami, live in two parallel worlds as far as questions of crime and the dispensation of justice are concerned—one world is informed by Vodou discourses and practices and the other by the culture of the American legal and criminal justice systems and the institutions designed to enforce them. In dealing with questions of crime and the dispensation of justice, Haitian migrants weave in and out of these two systems. The research will investigate how Haitian migrant Vodou worshippers, led by their Mambos (priestesses) and Houngans(priests) negotiate these two systems of justice in South Florida. It will also explore the tensions that come with Vodou practice in Miami because of mainstream restrictive laws and ordinances that delegitimize and criminalize its practices, and document how via agency, Haitian migrants and their priests shape Vodou discourse and praxis on crime and justice in the context of the duress Vodou encounters in the USA. My goal is to explore questions linked with the nexus of Vodou's discourse and praxis on crime and injustice and the American legal and justice systems in the dispensation and performance of criminal justice in South Florida.

The research will involve fieldwork among members of the Vodou Holistic Center in South Florida. This is a community of Vodou worshippers in Pembroke Pines and Little Haiti, two of Miami's Suburbs heavily populated by Haitian migrants. This group is led by Mambo Ingrid Llera, a popular Vodou priestess in Miami.