Remembering Karen McCarthy Brown, Vodou scholar and anthropologist

Memorial by Peter Savastano

It is with deep sadness that I inform you of the death of Karen McCarthy Brown on Wednesday night, March 4, 2015. She died peacefully in the extended care nursing facility where she lived for the past five years. As many of you know, Karen suffered from a serious form of dementia which rapidly took away her ability to remember, to speak or to express herself except in very minimal ways.

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Karen was my dear friend and mentor, and chaired my dissertation committee. She and I, along with J. Terry Todd and Eugenia Lee Hancock (also deceased), worked very closely together on the Newark Project, located at Drew University from 1994 until 2003, where Karen was Professor of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion and Director of the Newark Project.  Karen was beloved by her students and colleagues. She was an incredible teacher and I will forever be grateful to her for accepting me as her student. Over the years, Karen and I became close friends and collaborators, most especially exploring together the richness of Haitian Vodou in the Diaspora of New Jersey and New York City. There is nothing Karen loved to do more than to dance in honor of the Lwa. I can remember with great fondness dancing with her at many a Vodou ceremony in both New Jersey and New York City, most especially at Mama Lola’s “parties” for the Lwa in Brooklyn and at Manbo Jacqueline’s “spirit parties” in Irvington, New Jersey. Karen especially loved to be in the company of the Gede Lwa, who would always beeline for her or me, whenever those randy trickster sprits would grace us with their presence and healing antics.

This past Fall Semester 2014, I taught “West African Derived Religions in the Americas” and assigned Karen’s most famous and beautiful book, Mama Lola, A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. It had been many years since I read the book yet reading again was like reading it for the first time. I was irresistibly drawn in by its beauty and its sensitivity to the rich healing capacity of Haitian Vodou and to Haitian culture and history, both in Haiti and in the Diaspora. I remain convinced that while Karen surely benefitted from the recognition and fame writing Mama Lola brought her, she also wrote the book out of deep love and great respect and honor for Mama Lola, Maggie, Marsha and all the members of Alourdes’ family, both biological and spiritual.

Karen was the kind of anthropologist who never claimed to have a monopoly on objective truth or to have the last word on Haitian Vodou or Haiti’s complex history and deep and rich culture. Rather, Karen always tried her best in all she wrote to be intellectually rigorous, but also emotionally honest, speaking always from the heart and with deliberately cultivated sensitivity and compassion for all those she encountered, most especially in describing what she experienced firsthand in the world of Haitian Vodou.  This was the beauty of her heart-engaged methodology. This is the methodology she taught me and all of her students. I shall forever be grateful to Karen for teaching us the important lesson of the “politics of representation”: What one writes and how it is written has serious consequences for all involved. Another lesson she taught me and all of her students is to always try to find a biographical parallel in one’s own life to the lives of those who grant you permission to study among them; in short, empathy for and identification with the lives of others, most especially for the marginalized and disenfranchised. Karen was in awe of the ability of those Haitians (and others, especially in the LGBTQ community and in communities of women) who have been designated the “other” to nevertheless find ways to spiritually, politically, socially and culturally resist domination and oppression, no matter how difficult their plight.

Karen was a friend to many of you on the KOSANBA board and she was surely a great friend and supporter of KOSANBA’s goals and objectives, the scholarly study of Haitian Vodou. I hope you will all hold her in your prayers and meditations, in whatever way you may engage in such practices.

While it is true that Karen could not speak and her memory was pretty much obliterated due to her long illness, yet whenever I would visit her one way I could reach her was to sing her Vodou songs. As I sang, she would grow silent and still from her agitation. Her eyes would lock on mine and she would start to gently rock in her wheel chair. I believe that on some very deep level, Karen was connecting with Ginen, the place where she is now, I can only hope and pray, dancing a Banda with the Gede Lwa. Let us together hold a candle of light in her honor and be grateful for her friendship, deep knowledge and love for all things Haitian and most especially for the Haitian people in Haiti and wherever in the Diaspora they may be.


Peter Savastano, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of the Anthropology of Religion, Consciousness, Sexuality & Gender
Seton Hall University
KOSANBA Board Member


Call for papers—English

Apèl pou papye—Kreyòl

Appel à contributions—Français

Special Issue:

L'Occupation 1915–1934: Perspectives on Haiti and the US at the Centennial

Guest editors: Jeffrey W. Sommers and Ermitte St. Jacques, with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith

2015 marks the centennial of the United States occupation of the Republic of Haiti, 1915–1934. That event indicated a signal change in Haiti's history, propelling the country in new directions. Though a minor incident in US history, 'l'Occupation' was for Haiti a cataclysmic event. The country lost its independence as neocolonialism penetrated even further into Haiti, with a 'state against nation' dynamic configuring its class relations. Thereafter, Haiti then gave birth to new entanglements in its foreign relations that have resonated into the present.

The Journal of Haitian Studies will have a special issue in Fall 2015 marking this anniversary, and calls for articles in all disciplines and fields. Scholars may submit contributions in the broad areas of culture and society and political economy.

Essays should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words and should follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. Please submit your essay, cover sheet, and 150-word abstract to Queries should be directed to Dr. Jeffrey W. Sommers ( and Dr. Ermitte St. Jacques ( Articles can be written in English, Kreyòl, French, or Spanish.

Please submit articles by April 30, 2015.


Edisyon Espesyal:

Okipasyon amerikèn nan lane 1915-1934:
Lide sou Ayiti ak Etazini nan moman nap make santan evenman sa a.

Editè Invite: Jeffrey W. Sommers ak Ermitte St Jacques, avèk Patrick Bellegarde-Smith

Envitasyon pou moun bay atik:

Ane 2015 lan make san (100) lane okipasyon ameriken yo nan peyi Dayiti pandan lane 1915-1934. Evenman sa a make yon chanjman enpòtan nan istwa Ayiti pandan li pouse peyi a pran nouvo direksyon. Malgre okipasyon an se te yon ensidan ki pa t twò enpòtan nan istwa peyi Etazini, li te yon evenman ki te pote anpil boulvèsman pou Ayiti. Peyi a pèdi endepandans li lè neyokolonyalis lan antre pi plis anndan Ayiti ak yon dinamik "Eta kont Nasyon" ki tap defini relasyon ki genyen ant klas li yo. San pèdi tan, Ayiti te devlope yon lòt apròch nan relasyon ak peyi etranje ki toujou gen konsekans pou peyi a nan jounen jodi a.

Jounal Etid Ayisyen pral gen yon edisyon espesyal nan sezon otòn 2015 kap make anivèsè okipasyon an epi tou lap mande tout moun ki kapab voye atik sou sa pou li,  nan tout domèn ak nan tout sektè. Profesè ak inivèsitè ka soumèt kontribisyon yo nan diferan sektè sa yo tankou kilti, sosyete ak ekonomi politik.

Atik yo ta dwe gen ant 5,000 a 10,000 mo epi yo dwe respekte model sèzyèm edisyon " Chicago Manuel of Style  " (Manyèl Redaksyon nan Chikago). Tanpri voye atik ou ak yon paj kouvèti ansanm avèk yon rezime 150 mo nan Si nou bezwen poze kestyon, pran kontak ak Dr Jeffrey W. Sommers ( ak Dr Ermitte St Jacques ( Nou ka ekri atik yo nan lang angle, kreyòl, franse ak panyòl.

Tanpri voye atik yo anvan 30 avril 2015.


Edition spéciale:

L’Occupation 1915-1934:
Perspectives sur Haïti et les États-Unis à l’heure du Centenaire

Editeurs invités : Jeffrey W. Sommers et Ermitte St. Jacques, avec Patrick Bellegarde-Smith

Appel à Contributions :  

L’année 2015 marque le centenaire de l’occupation de la République d’Haïti par les Etats-Unis, durant l’intervalle 1915-1934. Cet événement a marqué un changement significatif dans l’histoire d’Haïti propulsant le pays vers de nouvelles directions. Bien que l’occupation ait été un incident mineur dans l’histoire des Etats-Unis, l’occupation fut un événement cataclysmique pour Haïti. Le pays a perdu son indépendance lorsque le néocolonialisme a pénétré davantage en Haïti avec une dynamique de « Etat contre Nation » configurant ainsi les relations entre ses classes. Par la suite, Haïti a développé de nouveaux enchevêtrements dans ses relations extérieures qui ont encore des répercussions sur le présent.

Le Journal des Etudes Haïtiennes aura une édition spéciale en automne 2015 pour marquer cet anniversaire et sollicite des articles dans toutes les disciplines et dans tous les domaines. Les universitaires peuvent soumettre leurs contributions dans les différents secteurs de la culture, de la société et de l’économie politique.
Les articles devraient comprendre entre 5,000 à 10,000 mots et devraient respecter la 16ème édition du « Chicago Manuel of Style » (Manuel de Rédaction de Chicago). Prière de soumettre votre article avec une page de couverture et un résumé de 150 mots à Les questions devront être adressées au Dr. Jeffrey W. Sommers ( et au Dr. Ermitte St. Jacques ( Les articles peuvent être rédigés en anglais, en créole, en français et en espagnol.

Prière de soumettre les articles au plus tard le 30 avril 2015.




Current Issue

FALL 2014

Journal of Haitian Studies, Volume 20, Number 2



Narrative Shifts after the Earthquake

Histories of the Past, Histories for the Future: Representing the Past and Writing for the Future in Rodney Saint-Éloi's Haïti, kenbe la!
—Kasia Mika

A New Pastoralism? Nature and Community in Lyonel Trouillot's La Belle amour humaine
—Martin Munro

Traumatic Encounters: Negotiating Humanitarian Testimony in Post-earthquake Haiti
—Daniel Brant

Ordinary and Extraordinary Relations of Power

A Sociological Counter-reading of Marie Chauvet as an “Outsider-Within”: Paradoxes in the Construction of Haitian Women in Love, Anger, Madness
—Carolle Charles

A Queen in Diaspora: The Sorrowful Exile of Queen Marie-Louise Christophe
—LeGrace Benson

Vodou: Resistance and Affirmation

Les Stratégies de lutte contre la « superstition » en Haïti au XIXe siècle
—Lewis Ampidu Clorméus

Etnografi de (2) dans rityèl nan Vodou ayisyen
—Ronite Louima

Foreign Influences on Haitian Identity and Sovereignty

Les Jeux d’influences dans le tourisme : Cas d’ Haïti
—Hugues Séraphin

The Limits of Haitian Sovereignty: Haiti through Clear Eyes
—Robert Maguire

Research Notes

État des lieux et perspectives de développement du Réseau des Universités Publiques Régionales (UPR) en Haïti
—Narcisse Fièvre

Haiti's Prized Presidential Legacies
—Yven Destin

Book Reviews

Haïti, naissance d’une nation : La Révolution de Saint-Domingue vue d’en bas, par Carolyn Fick, traduit par Frantz Voltaire (Review by Jean Waddimir Gustanvil)

Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire and Narratives of Loyal Opposition, by John Patrick Walsh (Review by Tomaz Cunningham)

Forging Ahead: Recollections of the Life and Times of Esther Dartigue, by Esther Dartigue and John Dartigue (Review by Grace L. Sanders Johnson)

Paroles et silences chez Marie-Célie Agnant. L’Oublieuse mémoire d’Haïti, dirigé par Colette Boucher et Thomas C. Spear (Review by Christiane Ndiaye)

Nan dòmi, le récit d’une initiation Vodou, by Mimerose Beaubrun, preface by Madison Smartt Bell; Nan Domi: An Initiate's Journey into Haitian Vodou, by Mimerose P. Beaubrun, preface by Madison Smartt Bell, translated by D. J. Walker (Review by LeGrace Benson)

Haiti: Trapped in the Outer Periphery, by Robert Fatton Jr (Review by Patrick Sylvain)

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz (Review by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall)


Available now, $15 per copy

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Editorial Board

Claudine Michel
University of California, Santa Barbara

Associate Editors
Patrick Bellegarde-Smith
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

LeGrace Benson
Arts of Haiti Research Project, Ithaca, New York

Managing Editor
Rose Elfman
University of California, Santa Barbara

Assistant Editors
Roberto Strongman &
Nadège Clitandre
University of California, Santa Barbara

Book Review Editors
Régine Michelle Jean-Charles
Boston College

Nadève Ménard
Université d'État d'Haïti

Kreyòl Editors
Jacques Pierre
Duke University

Editorial Board

Carole M. Berotte Joseph
Bronx Community College

Jhon Picard Byron
Faculté d'Ethnologie, UEH

Alix Cantave
W. K. Kellogg Foundation

Myriam Chancy
University of Cincinatti

Carrol F. Coates
Binghamton University, SUNY

Donald J. Cosentino
University of California, Los Angeles

Edwidge Danticat
Miami, Florida

Colin Dayan
Vanderbilt University

Michel DeGraff
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fritz Deshommes
Université d'État d'Haïti

Alex Dupuy
Wesleyan University

Robert Fatton, Jr.
University of Virginia

León-François Hoffmann
Princeton University

Laënnec Hurbon
Centre de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris

Michel Laguerre
University of California, Berkeley

Yanick Lahens
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

George Lipsitz
University of California, Santa Barbara

Christopher McAuley
University of California,
Santa Barbara

Georges Michel
Université Quisqueya

Marie-José Nzengou-Tayo
University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica

Brenda Gayle Plummer University of Wisconsin

Gina A. Ulysse
Wesleyan University

Tatiana Wah
Columbia University

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