J. Lorand Matory

J. Lorand Matory

Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology

External address: 
201C Friedl Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90091, Durham, NC 27708-0091
(919) 684-9923



Anthropology & History, Africa, African Diaspora, Transnationalism

Research Summary

Anthropology of religion, of ethnicity, and of education; 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

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 three 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, will be published by Duke University Press in 2018.

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

Of the Race but above the Race: Stigma and the Schooling of Ethnic Identity in the "Mecca" of Black Education

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”     

Degrees & Credentials

  • Ph.D., University of Chicago 1991

  • M.A., 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

Matory, JL. "From "Survival" to "Dialogue": Analytic Tropes in the Study of African-Diaspora Cultural History." Ed. Kummels, I, Rauhut, C, Rinke, S and Timm, B.: TRANSCRIPT VERLAG. January 1, 2014. 33-55. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "He Fit the Description: Prejudice and Pain in Progressive Communities." Racism in the Academy: The New Millenium. Ed. Smedley, A and Hutchinson, JF.: American Anthropological Association. February 2012. 138-44. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "The Homeward Ship: Analytic Tropes as Maps of and for African-Diaspora Cultural History"." Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge. Ed. Hardin, R and Clarke, KM. Madison.: University of Wisconsin Press. 2012. 93-112. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "The Many Who Dance in Me: Afro-Atlantic Ontology and the Problem with 'Transnationalism." Transnational Transcendence: Essays on Religion and Globalization. Ed. Csordas, TJ. Berkeley.: University of California Press. March 31, 2009. 231-262. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Islands Are Not Isolated: Reconsidering the Roots of Gullah Distinctiveness." Grass roots: African origins of an American art. Ed. Rosengarten, D, Rosengarten, T, Schildkrout, E and Carney, JA. New York: Museum for African Art; Seattle, WA.: University of Washington Press. September 30, 2008. 232-244. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Is There Gender in Yorùbá Culture?." Òrìşà devotion as world religion : the globalization of Yorùbá religious culture. Ed. Olupona, JK and Rey, T. Madison, Wisconsin.: University of Wisconsin Press. January 1, 2008. 513-558. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "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. Ed. Palmie, S. 2008.

Matory, JL. "The "New World" Surrounds an Ocean: Theorizing the Live Dialogue between African and African American Cultures." Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora. Ed. Yelvington, Kevin A., . Santa Fe, New Mexico.: School of American Research Press. April 15, 2006. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Tradition, Transnationalism and Gender in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble." Cultural Agency in the Americas. Ed. Sommer, Doris, . Durham, NC and London, UK.: Duke University Press. 2006. 121-145. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "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. Ed. Shryock, A.: Stanford University Press. 2004. 157-190. Open Access Copy


Matory, JL. "Collecting and exhibiting at the crossroads: in honor of eshu." Material Religion 12.3 (July 27, 2016): 378-380. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Watering the Flowers While Black." News & Observer (Raleigh, Nc) (July 14, 2016). (Editorial Comment) Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "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 72.04 (October 2015): 609-628. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "One Duke Professor's Trayvon Martin Moment." The News and Observer (Raleigh, Nc) (July 13, 2013). (Editorial Comment) Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "The illusion of isolation: The Gullah/Geechees and the political economy of African culture in the Americas." Comparative Studies in Society and History 50.4 (October 8, 2008): 949-980. Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "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 51.1 (2008): 107-120. Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Free to Be a Slave: Slavery as Metaphor in the Afro-Atlantic Religions." Journal of Religion in Africa 37.3 (January 1, 2007): 398-425. (Academic Article) Full Text

Matory, JL. "Contradiction and Forgetting in Yewessey Culture." Transforming Anthropology 10.2 (July 2001): 2-12. Full Text Open Access Copy


Matory, JL. "Affirmative Scapegoating." The Harvard Crimson May 29 (2014). Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "One Duke professor’s Trayvon Martin moment." News & Observer (July 13, 2013). (Editorial Comment) Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "What Harvard Has Taught Me." Harvard Crimson (June 2009). Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Obituary: Elliot Percival Skinner (1924-2007)." American Anthropologist 111.1 (March 2009): 127-130. (Scholarly Commentary) Full Text Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "'Favorite Professors' Open Letter to the Class of 2009." Ed. Liu, E. Harvard Yearbook 2009 (2009): 53-53. (Letter)

Matory, JL. "What Do Critics of Israel Have to Fear?." The Harvard Crimson June 5 (2008). (Scholarly Commentary) Open Access Copy

Matory, JL. "Letter to the Harvard Class of 1982." In Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1982: Twenty Fifth Anniversary Report (2007). (Letter)



Zombies: the Haitian and American Realities behind the Myth. Producer. (2016)


Zombies truly exist in Haiti, but in a manner quite unlike the ever-more-popular and mythical Hollywood character. This film reveals the complex truth about the Haitian zombie, historicizes the US American zombie, and analyzes their metaphorical meanings in a way intended to illuminate the fascination with zombies in both Haiti and the US.

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.