Naropa University-Oakland Campus

2141 Broadway, Oakland, CA  94612

Tel: 835 4827/ Fax: 510-835-0564





Course Title:  CSP750, Elements of African and American Ritual.

Number of Credit units:  1


Instructor: Luisah Teish.  Instructor’s contact telephone number: 510-595-1471.


Class Schedule:  Sept 15-Dec. 8, 2003, Mondays 1:30-4:30 p.m.


Course Description:


Ritual is a natural activity that renders spiritual information into forms of expression that can be experienced externally and shared communally.  Too often our experience of the spiritual has been confined to "in church" rituals which are performed "for and to" us but seldom "with " us.  In the cultures of the African Diaspora rituals are a part of individual, family, and community life.


In this class students will be introduced to the Universal Elements of Ritual present in all cultures and will concentrate on rituals that are particular to African and African American culture.


This course covers the Spiritual Cultures of the West African Diaspora (Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, and New Orleans specifically), its mythology, history, and practices.


Course Objectives:


Students will become familiar with the Universal Elements of Ritual and with the particular historical and cultural backgrounds of African and African American Spiritual Culture.


 They will be encouraged to explore and reconnect with rituals from their Culture of Origin and will receive guidelines for developing an ethical relationship to an affinity culture and with ones that may have been unfamiliar/unknown to them.


Students will learn how to design personal rituals based on practices such as altar building, spiritual cleansing, and the creation of appropriate offerings. Styles of prayer include praise poetry, art, music and dance.


Course Requirements:

1.  Attendance30%

O Seven-week course: One absence for serious reason allowed

2.  Class Participation and discussion 30%

3.  Additional Class Activities 5%

4.  Final Projects (Public Ritual) 35%

5.  Other

    Total Requirements 100%


Required Readings:

  Handouts from the Instructors original works.


Recommended readings:

Jambalaya: the Natural Woman’s book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals by Luisah Teish.  HarperSanFrancisco.  1985

Sankofa: Celebrations for the African American Church by Grenae D. Dudley and Carlyle Fielding Stewart III. United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio

Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Some



Calendar of weekly class activities and assignments:


1st week: (9/15) Introductions. Establish Class Ritual. Overview of Course. Ase, Power and the Universal Elements of Ritual. Altar building.

2nd week: (9/22) The African Diaspora. Slide show of Diaspora practices. Spiritual cleansing.

3rd week: (9/29)) The Sankofa Principle.  The Practical Applications of Ancestor Reverence. The Ancestral Journey Report. Music and Dance as Sacred Art.

4th week: (10/6) Guidelines and Ethics for Creating Multi-Cultural Rituals. Praise poetry and other prayer styles.

5th week: (10/13) Ritual Design and Production. The Spiritual Significance of Adornment and Regalia.

There will be no classes 10/20 and 10/27

6th week: (11/1) Saturday night Ritual Performance: The 8th Annual Festival of Bones.  Participation Required.

7th week: (11/3)) Review and Critique of the Festival of Bones (written and discussed)

8th week: (11/10) Discussion of Ritual as Art and Community Building.

9th week: (11/17) The Application of Ritual to Special Problems.

There will be no class Dec. 1.    Orchard Day Dec. 7

10th week: Open discussion/ or free time according to class desire.


Participation in the Festival of Bones is required in order to actualize the material in the context of a larger community.  A written evaluation of the ritual and the student’s participation, and understanding of it will be submitted before grades can be determined.

Those who are especially interested in the drumming, songs and dances of the culture may want to take the Sacred Sounds Workshop which will be held at UCS on Dec. 13th from 10:00 am- 4:00 PM.