Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santeria: Speaking a Sacred World

Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santeria: Speaking a Sacred World



Document Type




How do Santería practitioners in Cuba create and maintain religious communities amidst tensions, disagreements, and competition among them, and in the absence of centralized institutional authority? What serves as the "glue" that holds practitioners of different backgrounds together in the creation of a moral community? Examining the religious lives of santeros in Santiago de Cuba, Wirtz argues that these communities hold together not because members agree on their interpretations of rituals but because they often disagree. Religious life is marked by a series of "telling moments"--not only the moments themselves but their narrated representations as they are retold and mined for religious meanings. Long after they occur, spiritually elevated experiences circulate in narratives that may express skepticism or awe and hold the promise of more such experiences. The author finds that these episodes resonate in gossip and other forms of public commentary about the experiences of their fellow Santería practitioners. Drawing on ethnographic research about Santería beliefs and practices, Wirtz observes that practitioners are constantly engaged in reflection about what they and other practitioners are doing, how the orichas (deities) have responded, and what the consequences of their actions were or will be. By focusing their reflective attention on particular events, santeros re-create, moment to moment, what their religion is. Wirtz also argues that Santería cannot be considered in isolation from the complex religious landscape of contemporary Cuba, in which African-based traditions are viewed with a mix of fascination, folkloric pride, and suspicion. [Interactions among the conflicting discourses about these religions--as sacred practices, folklore, or dangerous superstitions, for example--have played a central role in constituting them as social entities.] This book will interest scholars of religion, the African diaspora, the Caribbean, and Latin America, as well as linguistic and cultural anthropologists.



Publication Date



Santeria, Cuba, Case Studies, Religious Life


History of Religion | Latin American History | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Citation for published book

Wirtz, Kristina. Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.

Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santeria: Speaking a Sacred World