Professor of African Religious Traditions in the Harvard Divinity School
BA, University of Nigeria
MA, PhD, Boston University
Jacob K. Olupona, who joined Harvard in 2006, is a noted scholar of indigenous African religions who came to Harvard from the University of California, Davis. His current research focuses on the religious practices of the estimated one million Africans who have emigrated to the United States over the last 40 years, examining in particular several populations that remain relatively invisible in the American religious landscape: "reverse missionaries" who have come to the U.S. to establish churches, African Pentecostals in American congregations, American branches of independent African churches, and indigenous African religious communities in the U.S. His earlier research ranged across African spirituality and ritual practices, spirit possession, Pentecostalism, Yoruba festivals, animal symbolism, icons, phenomenology, and religious pluralism in Africa and the Americas. In his forthcoming book Ile-Ife: The City of 201 Gods, he examines the modern urban mixing of ritual, royalty, gender, class, and power, and how the structure, content, and meaning of religious beliefs and practices permeate daily life.
He has authored or edited eight other books, including, most recently, Òrìsà Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture, co-edited with Terry Rey. His Kingship, Religion and Rituals in a Nigerian Community: A Phenomenological Study of Ondo Yoruba Festivals has become a model for ethnographic research among Yoruba-speaking communities. Olupona has received prestigious grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Ford Foundation, the Davis Humanities Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Getty Foundation. He has served on the editorial boards of three influential journals and as president of the African Association for the Study of Religion. In 2000, Olupona received an honorary doctorate in divinity from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and in 2007 he received the Nigerian National Order of Merit, that country's prestigious award given each year for intellectual accomplishment in the four areas of science, medicine, engineering/technology, and humanities.
Professor Olupona is currently teaching; he was on leave for 2015-16.
African and African American Studies
Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
office hours: contact professor directly