Africana Studies

Africana studies at Sarah Lawrence College embrace a number of scholarly disciplines and subjects, including anthropology, architecture, art history, dance, economics, film, filmmaking, history, Islamic studies, law, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, sociology, theatre, and writing. Students examine the experience of Africans and of people of African descent in the diaspora, including those from Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and beyond. Study includes the important cultural, economic, technological, political, and social intellectual interplay and exchanges of these peoples as they help make our world.

Students will explore the literature of Africans and peoples of African descent in various languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. The dynamics of immigration and community formation are vital in this field. Students will examine the art and architecture of Africa and the diaspora, along with their history, societies, and cultures; their economy and politics; the impact of Islam and the Middle East; the processes of slavery; the slave trade and colonialism; and postcolonial literature in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The program also includes creative work in filmmaking, theatre, and writing.

2017-2018 Courses

African Diasporic Dance

Component—Year

Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester only with permission of the instructor.

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and understanding African diasporic cultures. In addition to physical practice, master classes led by artists and teachers regarded as masters in the field of African diasporic dance and music, along with supplementary study materials, will be used to explore the breadth, diversity, history, and technique of dances derivative of the Africa diaspora. Afro Haitian, West African, Orisha dances (Lucumi, Afro Cuban), and social dance are some genres that will be explored. Participation in year-end showings will provide students with the opportunity to apply studies in a performative context.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: In the Tradition: An Introduction to African American History

Open , FYS—Year

African American history is an important window into the history of the United States and the rise of the modern world. This course explores classic narratives and examines major developments. The classic narratives are stories of self-emancipation and self-determination. The major developments range from the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Black Renaissance. On the one hand, students examine the dynamics of modern racism; on the other hand, students explore the contours of African American social, cultural, and intellectual history.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Revolutionary Lives: Biographical Perspectives on the Black Freedom Movement

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

The Black Freedom Movement that erupted after World War II rallied African American communities across the country, set the stage for a host of kindred movements in the United States, and inspired many millions around the world. This course explores the Freedom Movement’s history through the life stories of women and men who mobilized under its banners, through organizations including civil rights groups like the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Marxist parties of various sorts, and nationalist formations such as the Black Panther Party, the Revolutionary Action Movement, and the Republic of New Africa. Readings include works of biography, autobiography, and memoir that tell the riveting stories of both high-profile figures—Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and others—and foot soldiers whose names were never widely known outside the movement or have since been forgotten. Their personal histories offer uncommon perspectives on the Freedom Movement by illuminating its international connections, for example, and by challenging the conventional wisdom that civil rights and Black Power activists were fundamentally at odds. These histories also invite us to ponder timeless questions about personal responsibility and the power of individuals to change the world. The course is a reading-intensive seminar.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies in Literature: Texting and Intertexting

Open , FYS—Year

No literary text stands alone. New texts build themselves out of creative engagements and dialogues with other texts. A literary tradition builds itself out of interchanges between writers and other writers, between writers and readers. This course will study the intertextual give and take among ancient and more modern writers. We will study clusters of books where we can see the textual dynamics of interchange and extension at work, linking “modern” texts with “classics” of earlier times. We will consider the ways in which writers in the last two centuries, particularly writers of color, have established their own creative authority and cultural centrality—in part by creative reading and re-envisioning several of the most powerful texts of Western literature: Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The cultural authority and imaginative power invested in such “canonical” stories make literary tradition an imagined place for experimentation with ideas of self and society and language, for the extension of the sense of self and community into new forms and possibilities. Among the modern writers whose works we will study as creative and transformative responses to the “classics” will be: Derek Walcott, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gloria Naylor, Aldous Huxley, Mary Shelley, Charles Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. These modern writers’ various strategies of appropriation, subversion, and transformation will vivify and focus our sense of the still-challenging imaginative and social power of the “classical” texts. These instances of literary interchange should provide us with a way of thinking about literary tradition as liberating, dynamic, and pluralistic.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Epic Vision and Tradition From the Odyssey to Walcott’s Omeros

Open , Lecture—Year

The epic is a monumental literary form, an index to the depth and richness of a culture, and the ultimate test of a writer’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, the epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre developed in the Western tradition will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power. First term: Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Milton, Paradise Lost. Second term: Pope, The Rape of the Lock; Wordsworth, The Prelude; Eliot, The Waste Land; Joyce, Ulysses; Walcott, Omeros.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Prophetic Voices in African American Literature

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this course, amidst the challenges facing an increasingly fractious and polarized America centered around questions of citizenship and justice that strike at the heart of the body politic and its democratic values, we will examine how a black prophetic tradition—a visionary strain of African American literature—has raised its own collective voice in order to bear witness to suffering and injustice and ultimately combat it. Across a wide range of literary genres, from the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass to the hip-hop of De La Soul, from the Afrofuturism of Octavia Butler to the short fiction of Charles Chesnutt, from Beyonce’s Lemonade to Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, African American artists have sought to envision and ultimately create a better world using formal and rhetorical strategies of the black church, the folk traditions of the American South, the cultural practices of signifying and code-switching, and the vernacular embedded in the blues and its later musical iterations, among multiple other formal and thematic strategies.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Race and Satire

Open , Seminar—Spring

Humor has long provided a mainstay of cultural expression in the African American literature and experience. At least as long as since the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes saw African Americans as “laughing to keep from crying”—the act thereby providing an indispensable tool of survival—while for Richard Wright, wary of sentimentality, it was merely another form of confinement in the the white imagination: “the safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.” This course will use satire to complicate our understandings of gender, race, and sexuality in the 20th and 21st centuries, determining whether the genre provides a subversion of stereotypes and a tool to short-circuit the burden of racial oppression, as Hughes strongly felt, or merely recapitulates stock ways of thinking about black life in America, as Wright acidly countered. Through an interdisciplinary framework consisting of prose fiction, music, film, and television yet still centered on a literary core, we will investigate how comedy can frame African American identity and what that signifies in an era where race not only shapes but dominates the politics of a supposed “postracial” era.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

African Politics

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course offers a comprehensive introduction to African politics, challenging common assumptions and misunderstandings of the continent. We will investigate persistent political institutions, as well as mechanisms of political and economic change. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? How do the politics of patronage, prevalent in many African states and societies, affect processes of political and economic change such as democratization and the implementation of structural adjustment and poverty alleviation programs? What role have external influences, from colonialism to current forms of European and North American influence, played on the continent? What impact has China's rising role (alongside other Asian states) had? What choices and trade-offs have Africa's postcolonial leaders and citizens faced? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African states but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a few countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. The course will begin with an in-depth analysis of the colonial experience, decolonization, and the legacy of colonialism. We will then move on to address key questions regarding postcolonial governance, concerning the nature of the postcolonial African state, the role of violence in governance, the nature of popular demands for democracy, and popular rebellion and elite resistance. The final section will build upon the first two by investigating approaches to, and ideals of, economic development, including structural reforms, aid, trade, debt, private investment, and social programs in order to unearth the contradictions and promises of these processes.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Amandla! Power, Prejudice, Privilege, and South African Human Development Under and After Apartheid

Open , Seminar—Fall

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. —Nelson Mandela (1994), Long Walk to Freedom

For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret. —Alan Paton (1948), Cry, the Beloved Country

How do the contexts in which we live influence our development? And how do these contexts influence the questions that we ask about development and the ways in which we interpret our observations? In this course, we will evaluate from a cultural-ecological perspective these and other key questions about development through a discussion of human development in South Africa during and after the apartheid era. We will discuss ways in which cognitive, language, and socioemotional development and mental and physical health are influenced by the environments in which we live—which, during apartheid, was determined by the governmental classification of race. Key topics will include fear, racial stereotyping and discrimination, identity formation, acculturation and globalization, crime and violence, and forgiveness and reconciliation. We will also take a broader view of these topics in discussing what human development in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa can tell us about human development in general. In thinking about human development in South African contexts, we will also discuss South African psychological research during and after apartheid, with a view toward understanding more broadly how psychological research can both influence and be influenced by public policy. How did researchers’ political affiliations, race, ethnicity and cultural beliefs and practices affect the questions they asked, the measures they used, the ways in which they interpreted their data, and even whether and where they published their research findings? Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in psychology, human development, anthropology, sociology, and public health; from memoirs and other first-hand accounts (including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography); and from classic and contemporary South African literature. We will also view and analyze several classic and contemporary films, including: The Power of One, Tsotsi, Catch a Fire, and Cry, the Beloved Country.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Islam

Open , FYS—Year

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the foundational texts of Islam, the historical development of different Muslim cultures, and the contemporary issues that animate Islam’s ever-evolving manifestations. We will begin with the Qur’an, a book whose juxtaposition of narrative fragments, apocalyptic imagery, divine voice, and sociopolitical themes conveyed in rhymed Arabic prose has both entranced and confounded readers. We will look at the historical roots of the “isms” used today to describe the orientations of Sunnism, Shi‘ism, Sufism, and Salafism. Looking beyond the Middle East, where only about 20% of the current global population of Muslims reside, we will examine how migrating people, concepts, texts, and practices both transform and are transformed by existing traditions in different geographical locations. Contemporary preoccupations such as the status of women in Islam and the relationship between Islam and violence will be examined from a variety of perspectives, illustrating the intricacies of Muslim and non-Muslim acts of interpretation and their relationship to power and authority.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

American Muslims: History, Politics, and Culture

Open , Seminar—Year

The United States has a long and complicated history with its very diverse body of Muslim citizens. Muslim slaves were brought involuntarily to this country and forcibly kept from practicing their religion. Many of their descendants began to rediscover Islam in the early 20th century and were joined by an increasing number of Muslim immigrants after the Immigration and Nationality Act ended racial quotas on immigration in 1965. White converts joined them throughout the years. Although Muslims currently comprise only 1% of the American population, their significance goes well beyond their numbers. Beginning with Malcolm X in the 1950s and early 1960s and continuing to the post-9/11 era in the 21st century, perceptions about Muslims have functioned as barometers of deep social and political anxieties. To carefully examine these anxieties is to expose major fault lines in the domestic and foreign policies of the United States. The rise of fearmongering discourse from self-proclaimed “experts” on radical Islam after 9/11 is very much connected to the religious, political, and economic objectives of different groups, which are important to investigate. This course will look behind, but also beyond, the hot-button issues that dominate current headlines, exploring the variety of ways in which Muslim Americans have flourished in America and contributed to its intellectual and creative heritage in substantial ways. Material studied throughout the year will include many examples from the rich body of American Muslim memoirs, social and political critique, theology, literature, poetry, and art.

Faculty
Related Disciplines