Judith Casselberry

she/her

Associate Professor of Africana Studies
Bowdoin College

Judith Casselberry is associate professor of Africana Studies at Bowdoin College. Her teaching and research agenda focus on Black American religious and cultural studies, social movements, and Black intellectual thought with particular attention to gender and liberation.

She is author of The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism (Duke University Press, 2017), an ethnographic study of the spiritual, material, social, and organizational work of women in a Harlem-based Pentecostal denomination and co-editor with Elizabeth Pritchard of Spirit on the Move: Black Women and Pentecostalism in Africa and the Diaspora (Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People series with Duke University Press, 2019), a collection of essays by leading scholars examining Black women’s engagement with Pentecostalism globally. Casselberry has held visiting appointments at Wesleyan University, Barnard College, Vassar College, and New York University, as well as residential fellowships at Princeton and Harvard. Her research and scholarship have been recognized by awards from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Louisville Institute, Yale University, and the Charlotte W. Newcomb Foundation, among others.

Prior to joining the academy, Casselberry enjoyed a successful career as an international touring and recording artist promoting social justice, which she continues today. As a vocalist and guitarist, she has toured and recorded with Casselberry-DuPre  (1984-1994), JUCA (1994-2008), and Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely (1994-present), sharing stages with Sweet Honey in the Rock, Odetta, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, and Mavis Staples among (many, many) others. Casselberry’s career as both performer and academic has attracted documentary film makers to solicit her expertise.

She served as consultant for documentary films, Radical Harmonies (Mosbacher, 2002), The New Black (Richen, 2013), and appeared in Rise Up: Songs of the Women’s Movement (Brown, 2020). Casselberry is unique in that she brings a wealth of knowledge gleaned from life experience and academic research—embodied knowledge of Black women’s musical, cultural, and liberatory practices AND deep intellectual and heart knowledge of historical, political, social, and cultural contexts in which Black people produce freedom. Casselberry earned a BA of Music from Berklee College of Music in Music Production and Engineering (magna cum laude); an MA from Wesleyan University in Ethnomusicology; and PhD from Yale University in African American Studies and Anthropology.

Talks

  • Afrofuturism in 19th century Black Spirituals

What can 19th century Black spirituals teach us about Afrofuturism? What if we fully embraced the insistence of the spirituals—insisting on humanity, insisting on a divine ethical and moral vision? Nineteenth century Black spirituals laid the foundations for Afrofuturism as Black people collapsed time and space, to take on transcendent identities, that brought God and the battles and heroes of the Old Testament into their history while projecting liberation in the now and future. Through the spirituals Black people also insisted on the value of their ways of knowing and ways of expressing life. And they insisted on the fullness of life—life, death, sorrow, and joy. They insisted on a future in the now.

  • Black Women’s Freedom Practices: 17th to 21st Century

This talk centers four Black women of consequence who affected the American political landscape between the 17th and 21th centuries—Elizabeth Key, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Stacy Abrams. The experiences of Key, Wells-Barnett, Hamer, and Abrams highlight how power dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, status, and religion converge in different moments and are shaped and shaped by social, political, and historical contexts. At the same time, each woman shows how Black women’s activism has had a profound impact on America’s self-understanding—in social, legal, and political realms.

  • Intentional Community Building: Blackness in Lesbian Musical Culture

These reflections from a cultural worker/performer at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, address the commitment to building an intentional community rooted in a lesbian feminist musical and artistic ethos. This is about BIPOC women situated at the crossroads and historically on the margins of mainstream social and political movements. Women whose art, culture, social activism, and political strategies have shaped and been shaped by more visible movements on the American landscape—Civil Rights, Black Power, and Women’s Rights. It provides a glimpse into spaces where lesbians of color negotiate questions about autonomy, coalition work, and intentional community building, which inform our notions of civil society, citizenship, and social justice. This talk explores this work —its impact and joy—by looking specifically at the evolution of the festival’s theme song, “Amazon,” and how shifts in the song map shifts in community ethos.