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Elana Jefferson-Tatum
Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor
Elana Jefferson-Tatum
Contact Info:
Tufts University
Department of Religion
Eaton Hall, Room 313
Medford, MA 02155

Office: 617-627-7671
Fax: 617-627-6615

Ph.D. Emory University
M.T.S. Harvard University
B.A. Emory University

Research Interests:

  • African and African Diaspora Religions
  • Vodun Religious Cultures
  • Race, Religion, and Colonialism
  • Religion, Art, and Material Culture
  • Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
  • Gender and Women’s Studies in Religion

Areas of Expertise:
African and African Diaspora Religions; Race, Religion, and Colonialism; Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

Elana Jefferson-Tatum received her PhD in religion from Emory University in 2016. Her research investigates problems of translation and interpretation in the study of African religious cultures with an attention to theories and methods in the study of religion that participate in colonialist constructions of African and Africana sacred worlds as religiously other. Her current research specifically investigates Vodun religious-material cultures as productive sites for re-imagining "religion" as material, immanent, and natural. She is presently revising her dissertation project for book publication.


  • Africana Sacred Matters (Fall 2017)
  • (Mis-)Translating Vodun (Spring 2018)

Selected Publication:

  • "The Violence of Translation: An Indigenous World-Sense & The Western 'Prostitution' of Dahomean Bodies," Journal of Africana Religions vol. 3, no. 3 (2015): 279-324.

Selected Conference Presentations:

  • "Every Person has a Se: Towards a Vodun Philosophy of Personhood," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November 21, 2016.
  • "Sacred Matters: Africana Religious Materialities in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November 21, 2016.
  • "Beyond the Western Intellectual Landscape of Magic: Materializations of the Sacred in Kongo Religious Worlds," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November 19, 2016.
  • "From the Fetish Concept to the Construction of Religion: The Discursive Formation of African Religious Others," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, November 23, 2015.
  • "The Kola Tree and The Initiate: Towards an African Vodoun Philosophy of Personhood," KOSANBA/Haitian Studies Association Conference, Université de Montreal, Québec, Canada, October 21-22, 2015.
  • "Religion and the Politics of Materiality: Confronting Immaterial Religion through Reflections on Vodoun Materialist Orientations," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, November 2014.
  • "The Leaves that Our Ancestors Put Together Will Never Be Undone: Towards a Reevaluation of Natural Religion," Religion and the Natural Elements, Northwestern University, October 2014.

Major Awards:
Postdoctoral Fellow of Africana Studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 2016-2017.
John Fenton Prize in the Comparative Study of Religion, Emory University, Department of Religion, 2016.
Religious Practices and Practical Theology (RPPT) Dissertation Fellow, Emory University, 2015-2016.
FTE Doctoral Fellow, Forum for Theological Exploration, 2009-2011, 2014-2015.
Harvard University Presidential Scholar, 2007-2009.