I am seeking other scholars with whom to submit a proposal for a panel exploring diverse understandings of spirituality, religion, and mental health and illness across Africa and the diaspora. My paper analyzes expressions of these ideas in Akwaeke Emezi’s novel Freshwater, but I believe that productive and thought-provoking conversations could be hard regardless of whether the other researchers are focused on literary studies. Please see the abstract for my individual paper below:

Akwaeke Emezi’s (they/them) fiction debut Freshwater (2018) decenters Euro-American conceptions of psychological normativity, challenges traditional modes of epistemology, and engages in a rebellious work of narrative production that integrates spirituality with cognition. Though much of the story takes place on U.S. soil, the paradigmatic pillars of the novel are rooted in Nigeria. With its depiction of the Igbo-informed cognitive landscape of its ọgbanje protagonist, Ada, Freshwater points to a false dichotomy perpetuated by western medicinal praxis that minimizes the connections between mental health and religious experience, while also discounting non-Eurocentric perspectives. Emezi’s writing indicates that current approaches to psychology cannot account for the level of individual and cultural complexity that governs intertwined experiences of psychological and spiritual phenomena.

This essay argues that the implications of Freshwater reach beyond the specific context of the novel’s central character; Ada’s progression towards a transgressive form of self-understanding suggests myriad alternatives to our current assumptions around mental health. By connecting this work to disability studies, liminality theory, and research on African and diasporic authorship, the author of this paper proposes that Freshwater can be a starting point for meaningful movements towards a more expansive theory of the mind, which could in turn inform—and transform—our understandings of the interlinking elements of mental illness and spirituality. Though the novel was published prior to COVID-19’s foundation-shaking arrival, it offers a timely and urgent perspective on the vital changes that are needed in the ways that we—as both individuals and communities—relate to our psyches.

My preferred email would be [email protected] Please email me prior to the April 1 deadline.