Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Haitian Afro-Catholic folk religion. African dances were performed by slaves in the western part of Hispaniola as early as the seventeenth century, but the period from 1730 to 1790, when African slaves were imported in increasing numbers, is usually interpreted as voodoo's formative period. It was during this time that religious beliefs and practices of Dahomeans, Sengalese, Congolese, Yoruba, and African tribal groups combined with selected ideas concerning the Catholic saints to form the complex religious system now known as "voodoo."

A central focus of voodoo is devotion to the Ioa or Iwa (deities). All-important members of the pantheon are said to be from Africa, as is reflected in their names: Dambellah, Ezurlie, Legba, Ogun, Shango, and so on. One can find variants of voodoo throughout urban centers in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. Many North American practitioners are non-Haitians (see Brown 1991). Voodoo is among the fastest growing religions in North America. One of the most significant and understudied religious movements in the United States over the past 20 years has been the large-scale transfer of Haitian voodoo to urban centers in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Toronto.

Steven D. Glazier


K. M. Brown, Mama Lola (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991)

L. G. Desmangles, The Faces of the Gods (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500