Dianne Marie Stewart
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Religion and African American Studies
Emory University

Dianne Marie Stewart is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University, specializing in African heritage religious cultures in the Caribbean and the Americas. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Hartford, CT, USA.  She obtained her B.A. degree from Colgate University in English and African American Studies, her M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School, and her Ph.D. degree in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she studied with well-known scholars such as Delores Williams, James Washington and her advisor James Cone. Dr. Stewart joined Emory’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and teaches courses in the graduate and undergraduate programs.

Dr. Stewart’s research and teaching interests cover a wide range of topics under the umbrella of Africana religions with attention to religious thought and practices of African-descended people in the Anglophone Caribbean and the United States; womanist approaches to religion and society; theory and method in Africana religious studies; and the impact of African civilizations upon religious formation in the African diaspora. Dr. Stewart’s first monograph, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (Oxford University Press, 2005), offers a historically and ethnographically grounded theological analysis of the motif of liberation in Jamaica’s African heritage religious cultures from the 18th to the 21st century. 

Inspired by her pedagogical investment in Black love studies and her widely celebrated courses, The Power of Black Self-Love, (co-taught with Dr. Donna Troka), Black Love and Black Women, Black Love and the Pursuit of Happiness, Dr. Stewart published Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press in 2020) to inspire a new national conversation about love in the African American experience.  Her public scholarship and interviews on the subject of Black love, partnership and marriage have also been published in The Washington Post, Oprah Daily and disseminated through prominent media outlets such as APM’s Marketplace, KBLA Talk’s Tavis Smiley, Ebony, TheGrio, The Root and WGBH’s Basic Black. 

Dr. Stewart’s third monograph (Duke University Press, 2022) is part of a two-volume project with Dr. Tracey Hucks. Obeah, Orisa and Religious Identity in Trinidad, Volume II, Orisa: Africana Nations and the Power of Black Sacred Imagination, examines the Yoruba-Orisa religious culture as a meaning-making tradition in the afterlives of slavery and colonialism with attention to the affective mode of religious apprehension, the salience of Africa as a religious symbol, the sacred poetics of Black/Africana religious imagination and the prominence of Africana nations in projects of Black belonging and identity formation in Trinidad and the wider African diaspora. In so doing, the book emphasizes how Orisa spiritual mothers’ leadership and collective activism have helped to resituate their tradition from its location on the margins of society (folk religion) to its position alongside other religious traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam at the center of civil society.

Beyond her work in Trinidad and Jamaica, Dr. Stewart has studied and lectured in several African, Latin American, and Caribbean countries, including Nigeria, The Benin Republic, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bermuda. She spent a year and a half conducting archival and field research as a Fulbright Scholar in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she focused on the history of religions in Central Africa during the slave period and prophetic religious movements in Congo today. Her current book project, Local and Transnational Legacies of African Christianity in West-Central Africa and the Black Atlantic World, builds upon this research to explore how 18th-century Kongolese Catholicism inspired the formation of Afro-Protestant institutions among African descendants in the wider 18th- and 19th-century Atlantic world. From the southeastern coastal Afro-Methodist/Baptist traveling and seeking rites to the rise of cognate Native Baptist, Revival Zion, and Spiritual Baptist traditions in Jamaica and Trinidad, the book demonstrates how a Kongo Christian heritage lent central ingredients to this African Atlantic terrain of religious exchange and innovation.

Dr. Stewart has won several awards and fellowships over her career at Emory, including the Emory Williams Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, Emory College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Advising Award, Emory University Laney Graduate School’s Eleanor Main Graduate Faculty Mentor Award and Inclusive Excellence in the Humanities Award, a Senior Fellowship at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry and an Emory College of Arts and Sciences Chronos Faculty Fellowship. Among her service contributions, Dr. Stewart is most proud of her leadership of Emory’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. This international initiative aims to diversify the academy by helping students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to earn a Ph.D. degree and secure teaching positions at tertiary institutions across the United States and South Africa. Dr. Stewart has also served on several committees within the American Academy of Religion, and she is a founding co-editor, with Drs. Jacob Olupona and Terrence Johnson, of the Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People series at Duke University Press. Its most recent titles include In and Out of This World: Material and Extraterrestrial Bodies in the Nation of Islam by Stephen Finley and Kingdom Come: The Politics of Faith and Freedom in Segregationist South Africa and Beyond by Tshepo Masango Chéry.