The past twenty years have witnessed two dominant but opposing approaches to the study of the interconnections between Africa and the African Diaspora. Both seek to provide alternatives to traditional models of Africana Studies. The Afrocentric model has tended to focus on historical Africa, particularly the great civilizations of the African past. It has given little attention to the Diaspora, except to those aspects of black culture that reflect a continuum or retention of elements of certain African (specifically West African) cultures. The second model may best be described as a Black Atlantic approach; it has given little attention to the African continent, but has focused on persons of African descent throughout the Western world. This approach is especially concerned with identity formation, hybridity, syncretism, and creolization. Our pedagogical focus neither romanticizes nor ignores historical and contemporary Africa. It seeks to break current conceptualizations of the African Diaspora that only consider West Africa, Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and Brazil. While these areas will continue to be important, we hope to expand an understanding of Diaspora that includes all of Spanish speaking Latin America, East Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific as well.
This program insists that African peoples, as they have moved into different geopolitical circumstances, have developed and maintained a plurality of political strategies which cut across (but are also influenced by) a variety of religious, national, and cultural boundaries. By working to complicate and particularize what we know as "African identity," we hope to re-imagine the ways that African and African descendant peoples have worked to establish and maintain a coherent set of cultural and symbolic practices.
Our approach is in conversation with disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, but differs from them in the conceptualization of an interdisciplinary methodology. In other words, while we encourage in-depth knowledge of and training in traditional disciplines, one of the major intellectual goals of the program is the development of an interdisciplinary method and vocabulary for the study of the interconnections between Africa and peoples of African descent around the globe.