Religion in the Kitchen

Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions

320 pages

10 color illustrations

February, 2016

ISBN: 9781479861613

$89

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Elizabeth Pérez is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has contributed to numerous journals as well as to the volume Yemoja: Gender, Sexuality, and Creativity in the Latina/o and Afro-Atlantic Diasporas.

All books by Elizabeth Pérez

Winner, 2017 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion, presented by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion section of the American Anthropological Association

Finalist, 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions presented by the Journal of Africana Religions


Before honey can be offered to the Afro-Cuban deity Ochún, it must be tasted, to prove to her that it is good. In African-inspired religions throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, such gestures instill the attitudes that turn participants into practitioners. Acquiring deep knowledge of the diets of the gods and ancestors constructs adherents’ identities; to learn to fix the gods’ favorite dishes is to be “seasoned” into their service.
 
In this innovative work, Elizabeth Pérez reveals how seemingly trivial "micropractices" such as the preparation of sacred foods, are complex rituals in their own right. Drawing on years of ethnographic research in Chicago among practitioners of Lucumí, the transnational tradition popularly known as Santería, Pérez focuses on the behind-the-scenes work of the primarily women and gay men responsible for feeding the gods. She reveals how cooking and talking around the kitchen table have played vital socializing roles in Black Atlantic religions.
 
Entering the world of divine desires and the varied flavors that speak to them, this volume takes a fresh approach to the anthropology of religion. Its richly textured portrait of a predominantly African-American Lucumí community reconceptualizes race, gender, sexuality, and affect in the formation of religious identity, proposing that every religion coalesces and sustains itself through its own secret recipe of micropractices.

Reviews

  • "With clear description and sharp analysis Pérez highlights ways in which cooking—and its related activities such as conversation—is the stuff of religious engagement and a symbol of connection between humanity and divinity. Anyone concerned with better understanding how ordinary spaces and practices take on religious significance will value this book."

    —Anthony Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religion, Rice University

  • “A deeply researched, contextually rich and ambitious intervention into the literature on Black Atlantic religions. While most scholars of Santería and other Black Atlantic traditions have focused on initiation as the paradigmatic site where religious values are inculcated and religious subjects are `reborn,’ Pérez directs her attention to a more prosaic—and unjustly overlooked—setting: the kitchen. By cooking for the orishas, Pérez asserts, participants are themselves being cooked; that is, they are being socialized into the complex world of Santería aesthetics and ethics. In focusing on the informal spaces and behind-the-scenes work so fundamental to the molding of religious subjects and the perpetuation of Black Atlantic religious forms, Pérez opens up a whole world. Compelling as an ethnography and theoretically astute, Religion in the Kitchen offers a thought-provoking analysis of how religious norms are internalized and reproduced. A stunning achievement.”

    —Kelly E. Hayes, author of Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality and Black Magic in Brazil

  • "Religion in the Kitchen by Elizabeth Pérez is a stunning achievement, both for its methodological sophistication and its timely focus . . . Situating her analysis within multiple academic venues, including anthropology, history, and the arts, Pérez engages a methodological turn that is of inestimable value to scholars of religion. How fitting that a text about cooking and conversation sets a special place at the table for Africana traditions . . . Religion in the Kitchen is hearty and satisfying fare, served with academic rigor, the 'special sauce' for acuity and balance in the study of religion."

    Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "Here is a new approach to the syncretic black religions of the Atlantic world. Though Pérez's research site was a Cuban Lucumi (also called Santería) temple in Chicago, her insights and conclusions apply far beyond . . . Research on the aesthetics of everyday life is burgeoning everywhere and not only in philosophy, as this fine example demonstrates."

    Choice

  • “Pérez's reorientation of seemingly mundane gastronomical activities toward religious functionality in an effort to present a different approach to the study of Black Atlantic religion makes this book invaluable to scholars and students interested in African diasporic religions and anthropology/history of religion."

    Religious Studies Review

  • "Religion in the Kitchen is the product of Pe´rez’ longstanding interest in the religious phenomena of Black Atlantic communities, and builds on a number of prior projects, revisiting, revising, and creating a thoughtful and fascinating ethnographic text . . . [W]ill fascinate both the academic community and the interested layperson."

    Journal of Religious History

  • "[A] major contribution to the scholarship of Black Atlantic traditions, bringing much needed attention to cooking, talking, and the women and gay men who do both . . . With an accessible introduction and opening chapters, Pe´rez’s careful, erudite analysis offers methodological direction and a theoretical vocabulary for all scholars interested in the intersection of everyday practice with religious subject formation."

    Nova Religio

  • "Chapter three is my favorite in the book . . . a prime example of Geertz’s model of thick description as applied to religion and food. Readers will no doubt find themselves comparing Pe´rez’s work to that of Karen McCarthy Brown (2001) in Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, which has become a classic in the field. Pe´rez’s questions and conclusions are different than Brown’s, but I suspect that like Mama Lola, Pe´rez’s Religion in the Kitchen will become a go-to book for the study of Afro-Caribbean traditions in the USA."

    Material Religion

  • "[W]ell crafted, theoretically engaging, and insightful . . . Pérez adroitly maps those interstitial spaces often historically relegated solely to women and their labor. This book provides a rare view into the liminal space of the Lucumí cloister and the coded dialogues therein . . . By queering her analysis in Religion in the Kitchen, Pérez substantively and subtly illuminates the temple-house community’s cohesion across its various subject positions . . . The role and signification of who cooks, what they cook, for whom they are cooking, who gets to eat and why suddenly opens up new avenues for inquiry and analysis under Pérez’s gaze."

    Food, Culture & Society