J. Lorand Matory

J. Lorand Matory

Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies

External Address: 
201C Friedl Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Box 90091, Durham, NC 27708-0091
(919) 684-9923
Office Hours: 
Thursdays: 1PM-3PM (20-minute intervals)



Anthropology & History, Africa, African Diaspora, Transnationalism, Social Theory

Research Summary

Anthropology of religion, of ethnicity, of education and of social theory; history and theory of anthropology; African and African-inspired religions around the Atlantic perimeter; ethnic diversity in the African-descended population of the US; tertiary education as a culture; gender, religion and politics; transnationalism; spirit possession; hierarchy in religion, politics and eroticism

Research Description

J. Lorand Matory is the Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and the Director of the Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Project at Duke University.

The author of four books and more than 50 articles and reviews, he is also the executive producer and screenwriter of five documentary films. Choice magazine named his Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Ọyọ Yoruba Religion an outstanding book of the year in 1994, and his Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé won the Herskovits Prize from the African Studies Association for the best book of 2005.  In 2010, he received the Distinguished Africanist Award from the American Anthropological Association, and, in 2013, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany awarded him the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, a lifetime achievement award that is one of Europe's highest academic distinctions.  Professor Matory was also selected to deliver anthropology’s most prestigious annual address, the Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture, which resulted in the book Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America (2015), concerning the competitive and hierarchical nature of ethnic identity-formation.  His latest book, The “Fetish” Revisited: Marx, Freud and the Gods Black People Make (2018), received the 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Analytical-Descriptive category.

Professor Matory is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago, and he has conducted 35 years of intensive research on the great religions of the Black Atlantic—West African Yoruba religion, West-Central African Kongo religion, Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santería/Ocha, and Haitian Vodou.  In recognition of his outstanding scholarship, he also served, from 2009 to 2013, as the James P. Marsh Professor at Large at the University of Vermont, one of that University’s highest honors.

Current Projects

The Romance of Authority: Hierarchy and Community in the Afro-Atlantic Religions, or BDSM as an Afro-Atlantic Religion

Areas of Interest

spirit possession
African religions
African-diaspora religions
Afro-Atlantic religions
African culture in the Americas
religion and politics

Media Appearances

Vodou and Other African Religions

Vodou and Other African-Inspired Religions

Vodou and Other African-Inspired Religions

Lucumi Music: Singing, Dancing and Drumming Black Divnity

"Global Affirmative Action in a Neoliberal Age"

 “Can We Talk?: Bridges between the Humanities and the Social Sciences”

 “Human Traffic: Past and Present”     

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., The University of Chicago 1991

  • M.A., The University of Chicago 1986

  • B.A., Harvard University 1982

Selected Grants

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Piety in Progress: Video Filmmaking and Religious Encounter in Benin awarded by National Science Foundation (Co Investigator). 2014 to 2016

Crafting Freedom awarded by National Endowment for the Humanities (Principal Investigator). 2012 to 2013

Apter, Andrew. “Oduduwa’s Chain: Locations of Culture in the Yoruba-Atlantic.” African and Black Diaspora: An International Journa, 6 Aug. 2018, pp. 1–5. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Witchcraft Intimacy & Trust: Africa in Comparison.” Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 44, no. 3–4, 2014, pp. 423–27. Manual, doi:10.1163/15700666-12340016. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Book review of "Yoruba sacred kingship: 'A power like that of the gods.'".” Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 3, George Washington University, Institute for Ethnographic Research, July 1998, pp. 155–56. Manual, doi:10.2307/3318085. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Review article on Creativity of Power: Essays on Cosmology and Action in African Societies (1989), eds. Ivan Karp and William Arens.” Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 23, no. 2, BRILL, 1 May 1993, pp. 175–80. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “: Africanisms in American Culture . Joseph E. Holloway, D. C. Hine, J. McCluskey, Jr., D. B. Gaspar.American Anthropologist, vol. 93, no. 2, Wiley, June 1991, pp. 489–90. Crossref, doi:10.1525/aa.1991.93.2.02a00540. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. From "Survival" to "Dialogue": Analytic Tropes in the Study of African-Diaspora Cultural History. Edited by I. Kummels et al., TRANSCRIPT VERLAG, 2014, pp. 33–55. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “He Fit the Description: Prejudice and Pain in Progressive Communities.” Racism in the Academy: The New Millenium, edited by Audrey Smedley and Janis Faye Hutchinson, American Anthropological Association, 2012, pp. 138–44. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “The Homeward Ship: Analytic Tropes as Maps of and for African-Diaspora Cultural History".” Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge, edited by R. Hardin and K. M. Clarke, University of Wisconsin Press, 2012, pp. 93–112. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “The Many Who Dance in Me: Afro-Atlantic Ontology and the Problem with 'Transnationalism.” Transnational Transcendence: Essays on Religion and Globalization, edited by Thomas J. Csordas, University of California Press, 2009, pp. 231–62. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Islands Are Not Isolated: Reconsidering the Roots of Gullah Distinctiveness.” Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art, edited by Dale Rosengarten et al., University of Washington Press, 2008, pp. 232–44. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Is There Gender in Yorùbá Culture?Òrìşà Devotion as World Religion : The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture, edited by Jacob K. Olupona and Terry Rey, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, pp. 513–58. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “Free to Be a Slave: Slavery as a Metaphor in the Afro-Atlantic Religions.” Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions, edited by Stephan Palmie, vol. 33, BRILL, 2008. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “The "New World" Surrounds an Ocean: Theorizing the Live Dialogue between African and African American Cultures.” Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora, edited by J. L. Yelvington, Kevin A., School of American Research Press, 2006. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Tradition, Transnationalism and Gender in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble.” Cultural Agency in the Americas, edited by J. L. Sommer, Doris, Duke University Press, 2006, pp. 121–45. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “Sexual Secrets: Candomblé, Brazil, and the Multiple Intimacies of the African Diaspora.” In Off Stage/On Display: Intimacy and Ethnography in the Age of Public Culture, edited by Andrew Shryock, Stanford University Press, 2004, pp. 157–90. Open Access Copy


Matory, J. L. “Collecting and Exhibiting at the Crossroads: In Honor of Eshu.” Material Religion, vol. 12, no. 3, Routledge, Sept. 2016, pp. 378–80. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Watering the Flowers While Black.” News & Observer (Raleigh, Nc), July 2016. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “In-Depth Review--The Formation of Candomble: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil, by Luis Nicolau Pares.” The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History, vol. 72, no. 04, Oct. 2015, pp. 609–28. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “In-Depth Review: The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil, by Luis Nicolau Parés.” The Americas, vol. 72, no. 4, Cambridge University Press (CUP), Oct. 2015, pp. 609–28. Crossref, doi:10.1017/tam.2015.70. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “One Duke Professor's Trayvon Martin Moment.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, Nc), July 2013. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “The illusion of isolation: The Gullah/Geechees and the political economy of African culture in the Americas.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 50, no. 4, Oct. 2008, pp. 949–80. Scopus, doi:10.1017/S0010417508000406. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Feminismo, nacionalismo, e a luta pelo significado do adé no Candomblé: ou, como Edison Carneiro e Ruth landes inverteram o curso da historia.” Revista De Antropologia: Revista De Antropologia Da Universidade De São Paulo, vol. 51, no. 1, Universidade de São Paulo, 2008, pp. 107–20. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Free to be a slave: Slavery as metaphor in the afro-Atlantic religions.” Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 37, no. 3, Dec. 2007, pp. 398–425. Scopus, doi:10.1163/157006607X218764. Full Text

Matory, J. L. “Gendered agendas: The secrets scholars keep about Yorùbá-Atlantic religion.” Gender and History, vol. 15, no. 3, Nov. 2003, pp. 409–39. Scopus, doi:10.1111/j.0953-5233.2003.00314.x. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “Contradiction and Forgetting in Yewessey Culture.” Transforming Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 2, Wiley, July 2001, pp. 2–12. Crossref, doi:10.1525/tran.2001.10.2.2. Full Text Open Access Copy


Matory, Brian W. “Thirty-fifth Anniversary Report, Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1982.Alumni Report (1935).  Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Report, Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1982.  Cambridge, MA: Class Report Office, Harvard University, Harvard University Press, pp. 338–41. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. Hurt People Hurt People. Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology, 3 June 2015. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. Why I Stood Up: The Case Against Summers. The Harvard Crimson, 7 June 2006. Open Access Copy

Matory, Lorand. “"The Fetish Revisited" with J. Lorand Matory Interview with Kristian Petersen.” Religious Studies News, edited by Kristian Petersen, Journal of Ameriacan Academy of Religion, 30 July 2020. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Stureplan People: Racial Fantasy and Human Reality in Today's Sweden.” Transition, vol. 118, 2015, pp. 47–60. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Affirmative Scapegoating.” The Harvard Crimson, no. May 29, 2014. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “One Duke professor’s Trayvon Martin moment.” News & Observer, 13 July 2013. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “What Harvard Has Taught Me.” Harvard Crimson, June 2009. Open Access Copy

Matory, J. L. “Obituary: Elliot Percival Skinner (1924-2007).” American Anthropologist, vol. 111, no. 1, Mar. 2009, pp. 127–30. Manual, doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01100_2.x. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, J. Lorand. “'Favorite Professors' Open Letter to the Class of 2009.” Harvard Yearbook, edited by Elaine Liu, vol. 2009, Harvard Yearbook Publications, 2009, pp. 53–53.

Matory, Lorand. “What do Critics of Israel Have to Fear?The Harvard Crimson, 5 June 2008. Open Access Copy

Matory, Lorand. Orwellian Uses of Free Speech. Harvard Crimson, 30 Nov. 2007. Open Access Copy



Zombies Are Real: The Haitian and American Realities Behind the Myth. Editor. https://sacredart.caaar.duke.edu/content/zombies-are-real-haitian-and-american-realities-behind-myth (2016)


Short, non-fiction film for the Department of Cultural Anthropology about the origins of the zombie myth in Haiti. Zombies are real. In Haiti, zonbi are ensorcelled people or spirits exhumed from the grave. The zombie first appeared in US American books and films during the US occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), drawing its inspiration from the exaggerated reports of US Marines. But the zombie has now become a billion-dollar entertainment industry.

Lucumi Music: Dancing, Singing, and Drumming Black Divinity. Producer. Watch on YouTube (2015)


The orichas and the foddunes of Cuba and its diaspora come alive through music and dance. This film documents a 2014 conference of the Center for African and African American Research at Duke University about the diverse genres of Afro-Cuban sacred drumming that turn human beings into gods. The cutting-edge ideas that emerged at the conference are illustrated in performance footage. “Lucumí Music” both illuminates and instantiates the century-old encounter among priests, dancers, drummers, researchers, state officials, and tourists has shaped the practice of Afro-Cuban religion today.

A conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Producer. Watch on YouTube (2014)


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. In 2003 her debut novel "Purple Hibiscus" was released and since then she has written and published another three books, the latest being "Americanah". She had her great breakthrough 30 years old with her second novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun", that won the Orange Prize. It is a novel about the political conflicts culminating in the Biafra war in the end of the 1960´s, narrated through a couple of individual destinies. An epic novel now transformed into an epic movie, "Half of a Yellow Sun", thanks to Biyi Bandele´s adaptation.

Moderator: Jannike Åhlund, film critic, journalist and artistic director of The Bergman Week.

The seminar will be held in English.

A cooperation between Göteborg International Film Festival, Internationell Författarscen Göteborg and ABF. Free entrance.

Global Affirmative Action in a Neoliberal Age. Producer. Watch on YouTube (2013)


In a half-dozen countries around the world, affirmative action and its counterparts have been prompted by diverse circumstances, taken diverse forms,encountered diverse forms of resistance, and had diverse outcomes. While its implementation is increasingly challenges in the US, it is being implemented with increasing frequency and intensity in many countries, and often with a broader and more radical set of goals.

Global Affirmative Action in a Neoliberal Age. Producer. (2013)


In a half-dozen countries around the world, affirmative action and its counterparts have been prompted by diverse circumstances, taken diverse forms,encountered diverse forms of resistance, and had diverse outcomes. While its implementation is increasingly challenges in the US, it is being implemented with increasing frequency and intensity in many countries, and often with a broader and more radical set of goals.

Human Traffic Past And Present 1 . Producer. Watch on YouTube (2012)


An international group of social scientists, historians, artists and activists met to discuss the global phenomenon of human trafficking which is often referred to as "modern-day-slavery." This conference tells of the stories of the people who have been manipulated and many time coerced into human bondage and those who profit from their suffering.