Soul Talk Live: Appropriation or Appreciation

During Episode 2 of the Soul Talk Sister Circle, the women gathered in virtual circle to explore the insights and wisdom from the book, Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women by Akasha Gloria Hull. Click here for details of the book from the publisher.

A brief description:

From the last part of the twentieth century through today, African-American women have experienced a revival of spirituality and creative force, fashioning a uniquely African-American way to connect with the divine. In Soul Talk, Akasha Gloria Hull examines this multifaceted spirituality that has both fostered personal healing and functioned as a formidable weapon against racism and social injustice.

Through fascinating and heartfelt conversations with some of today’s most creative and powerful women – women whose spirituality encompasses, among others, traditional Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Native American teachings, meditation, the I Ching, and African-derived ancestral reverence – the author explores how this new spiritual consciousness is manifested, how it affects the women who practice it, and how its effects can be carried to others.

Using a unique and readable blend of interviews, storytelling, literary critique, and practical suggestions of ways readers can incorporate similar renewal into their daily lives, Soul Talk shows how personal and social change are possible through reconnection with the spirit.

The book had a strong emphasis on “New Age” spirituality, which gave rise to a hot topic among the women which became the focal point of the entire conversation –  spiritual/cultural appropriation.

One definition of cultural appropriation states that it is “the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.”

Spirituality For The Taking, And For Sale, In The New Age

So, what is this New Age and why is appropriation such a hot button topic for African American women, and people of color in general?

Dr. Michael York from the Department of the Study of Religions at Bath Spa University College(1) phrases it this way:

The New Age Movement can be seen as one response to the decline of traditional religion in the West. It conforms to the spiritual pluralism that Bryan Wilson understands as a consequence of secularization. From a New Age perspective, the world’s various spiritual traditions are now public property and no longer the private preserve of the parochial groups or religious elites that they once were. Since in this open availability process, the sacred becomes commodified, the general argument allows that it can be bought and sold and thus consumed according to basic free-market principles.

This issue of appropriation is a contentious one for people of color in North America, be they American Indians, African-Americans or Asian-Americans. The contention is that the dominant culture (Euro-Americans), under the banner of the New Age, coopts the spiritual/cultural practices from marginalized cultures – while holding said cultures with disdain and disrespect.

Professor York continues to say that:

In defense of New Age, it could be pointed out that all religions appropriate from each other. Roman paganism, through its “interpretatio romana” incorporated Celto-Gaulic deities; Hinduism included Gautama Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu; Christianity acquired pagan sanctuaries and festivals for its own; Islam seized the Kaaba and the site of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Inter-religious exchange may, in fact, be seen as an inevitable norm.

(1) Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 16, No. 3, 2001

Join the conversation!

The conversation continues as we explore the questions:

What does it mean to people of color to watch as their spiritual practices are absorbed by another, specifically a culture who has been in a position of dominance and oppression?

Is it a necessary evil in a society that is a melting pot of different cultures?

How do we re-indigenize our spiritual practices?

And in the new age, is appropriation a route to reconnecting with ancient wisdom because many have been uprooted; have lost connection to earth-based traditions of their ancestors; and are ardently searching for more meaning?

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