'Intimate rites: ancestors and queer kinship in Zimbabwe' by Raffaela Taylor-Seymourn (University of Oxford)

This talk examines the engagements with ancestral spirits among young queer Zimbabweans. Queer Zimbabweans live at the intersection two powerful lines of argument that frequently call into question their agency as religious subjects. On the one hand, many local political and religious leaders frame queer intimacies and gender transgression as inherently “un-African”, at odds with both indigenous traditions and Christianity. On the other hand, global gay rights activists have responded to these claims with high-profile campaigns to promote LGBTQ rights across the continent, which often frame queer Africans as victims of religious persecution. Against this backdrop, this talk focuses on the forms of kinship that young queer people forge with ancestral spirits in Zimbabwe. In contrast to often fraught relationships with living family members, ancestral spirits fulfill desires for intimacy, protection, and care from kin. In the process, spirits embrace divergent sexual identities and reframe them as intrinsically valuable aspects of a person’s being that make them uniquely situated to serve as mediums. The paper argues that relationships with spirits constitute a distinctive form of queer kinship, in which the spirits’ choice of queer people as mediums serves to rearticulate and reimagine idioms of “chosen family”. 

Bio: Raffaella Taylor-Seymour is a social anthropologist and Junior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford. Her work examines religious transformations in the context of struggles over gender, sexuality, and the environment in contemporary Zimbabwe. In a context in which colonialism forcefully upended ideas about personhood, spirituality, and ties between people and place, her research explores young people’s embrace of ancestral spiritual practices in response to major contemporary challenges. Before coming to Oxford, Raffaella completed her PhD at the University of Chicago where she was a Fulbright Scholar and Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellow.

Departmental Seminar Series Hilary 2023

3.15pm, Fridays of Weeks 1-8. On Teams only in Weeks 2, 4 and 5, otherwise in 64 Banbury Road and on Teams.

Teams link.

The Seminar is replaced in Week 6 by the Geoffrey Harrison Prize Lecture which takes place at 3.15pm on 24 February in 64 Banbury Road.

Convened by Javier Lezaun and Eben Kirksey