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Department of American Studies College of Arts and Sciences

Stephen Selka

Picture of Stephen Selka

Associate Professor
Department of American Studies
Department of Religious Studies

Office: Sycamore Hall 205
E-mail: sselka at


Ph.D., University at Albany, SUNY, 2003

Research Interests

  • Religion, identity, and politics
  • Tourism and cultural heritage
  • Brazil, Latin America and the Caribbean
  • The African Diaspora

Personal Statement

My research is broadly concerned with religion in relation to other religions and in relation to projects that are not specifically religious, such as social activism, tourism development, and heritage preservation. I am especially fascinated by spaces where different religions -- along with their various ontologies, epistemologies, moralities, and modes of embodiment -- intersect. Much of my current work focuses on understanding the intimacies, antagonisms and (mis)identifications that emerge, often through the mediation of cultural brokers, among religions in relation to each other, particularly in the context of transnational projects such as African diaspora tourism.

My first book, Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil (University Press of Florida, 2007), investigates how Afro-Brazilians involved with different religious groups construct their ethnic identities and participate in the struggle against racism. In it I explore how Catholics, evangelicals and povo de santo (Candomblé practitioners) assign radically different meanings to traditional Afro-Brazilian symbols and practice and differ widely in their approaches to questions about black identity. Along the way I take a close look at the complex and sometimes unexpected relationships that emerge between religious communities and identity-based social movements.

Currently I am involved with two ongoing research projects. The first concerns conflicts and convergences, especially around questions of morality and ritual, between Candomblé and pentecostalism in Brazil. The second focuses on the Sisterhood of the Good Death (A Irmandade da Boa Morte, or simply Boa Morte), an Afro-Catholic devotional organization in Bahia whose members are women of African descent involved in Candomblé. My research on Boa Morte focuses on recent transformations of Afro-Brazilian religious practice in the context of 1) the growth of domestic and transnational cultural tourism focusing on the Afro-Brazilian heritage; 2) the increasing amount of material and symbolic capital that the state has invested in sites where this heritage is constructed and celebrated; 3) and the emergence of a discourse of black consciousness movement focused on -- among other things -- "rescuing" the Afro-Brazilian heritage from political and commercial appropriation. I explore how these processes have reconfigured the ground of cultural practice in a variety of ways, including by integrating it into wider institutional and interpersonal networks and subjecting it to increasing forms of mediation that project it beyond local sites of practice. This research, which is the basis for my second book project, examines the articulations and tensions among various representations of Boa Morte and how local actors engage these representations in their everday lives.

Courses Recently Taught

  • African Diaspora Religions
  • Religion and Race in Brazil
  • Global Tourism
  • Ethnographic Research Methods

Publication Highlights

2010 Selka, S. "Morality in the Religious Marketplace: Evangelical Christianity, Candomblé and the Struggle for Moral Distinction in Brazil. American Ethnologist 37(2): 291-307.

2009 Selka, S. "Rural Women and the Varieties of Black Politics in Bahia, Brazil." Journal of Black Women, Gender and Families 3(1): 16-38.

2008 Selka, S. "The Sisterhood of Boa Morte in Brazil: Harmonious Mixture, Black Resistance and the Politics of Religious Practice." Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 3(1): 79-114.

2007 Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil, University Press of Florida.

Honors and Awards

  • Fulbright CIES Fellowship (2011)
  • Most Influential Professor Award from the Latin American Studies Graduate Students at Tulane University (2007)
  • Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award, University at Albany (2004)
  • Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation (2001)