Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Fogleman, Aaron Spencer

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


This dissertation is a comparative study of religious development, resilience, and sustainability in Haiti and New Orleans between 1804 and 1915. In each location, a new religion developed from the spiritual practices of enslaved Africans: Haitian Vodou and New Orleanian Voodoo. This study asks key questions about religious development, resilience, and overall sustainability in the Black Atlantic. How did Haitian Vodou mature into a national religion and resist challenges to its legitimacy from Haitian elites and Euro-Americans throughout the Atlantic World? How were whites in the U.S. able to usurp the identity of New Orleanian ceremonial Voodoo and transform it into a commodified caricature? To what extent did isolation or exposure to popular culture, particularly U.S. newspapers, influence these religious developments, resilience, and sustainability? Did an urban versus a rural location affect religious developments? And, what role did class play in the disparate outcomes of Vodou and Voodoo?

This dissertation analyzes newspapers, travelers’ accounts, political cartoons, and ethnographies to assess the effects of news media and popular culture in the U.S. on Vodou and Voodoo and found that three factors account for these opposite outcomes. First, a stronger sense of self-identity developed in Haiti than in New Orleans because it largely went unchallenged by outsiders. This new identity grew organically from the bottom up among the Haitian peasantry who self-identified as a nation and constructed a new national religion that incorporated national mythology and strong ties to Haitian land. Second, the Voodoo Queens in New Orleans developed Voodoo on the twin foundations of charismatic leadership and public interaction that included manipulation of the white press and large public ceremonies. Unlike the rural setting in which Haitian Vodou matured, Voodoo developed in a cosmopolitan urban setting. The public nature of New Orleanian Voodoo reduced the ability of the group to successfully resist outside pressures, which were constant. And third, the ability of the press and popular culture to influence behavior and create a cycle of cultural production and consumption between religious insiders and outsiders only exists if both insiders and outsiders actively engage with the press and popular culture. Such engagement happened in New Orleans but did not among the Haitian peasantry.


377 pages




Northern Illinois University

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