Cover image for Santeria : the beliefs and rituals of a growing religion in America
Santeria : the beliefs and rituals of a growing religion in America
De La Torre, Miguel A.
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Publication Information:
Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., [2004]

Physical Description:
xviii, 246 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
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BL2532.S3 D4 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book by Miguel De La Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santería -- a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone.

Santería is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro's revolution in 1959, Santería came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

Apart from vague suspicions that Santería's rituals include animal sacrifice and notions that it is a "syncretistic" form of Catholicism, most people in America's cultural and religious mainstream know very little about this rich faith tradition -- in fact, many have never heard of it at all. De La Torre, who was reared in Santería, sets out in this book to provide a basic understanding of its inner workings. He clearly explains the particular worldview, myths, rituals, and practices of Santería, and he discusses what role the religion typically plays in the life of its practitioners as well as the cultural influence it continues to exert in Latin American communities today.

In offering a balanced, informed survey of Santería from his unique "insider-outsider" perspective, De La Torre also provides insight into how Christianity and Santería can enter into dialogue -- a dialogue that will challenge Christians to consider what this emerging faith tradition can teach them about their own. Enhanced with illustrations, tables, and a glossary, De La Torre's Santería sheds light on a religion all too often shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding.

Author Notes

Miguel A. De La Torre is assistant professor of religion at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In Cuba, the Yoruba religion of the orishas melded with saint-rich Catholicism to create Santeria, one of the primary Afro-Caribbean religions and an increasingly significant part of American culture. Brought up in a New York family that practiced Santeria--both his parents are santeros, or priests--De La Torre no longer considers himself a believer but remains deeply affected by his childhood experiences. Writing as both an academic outsider and a privileged former insider, he retells Yoruba myths clearly and expressively, and his analysis of religious syncretism is both scholarly and accessible. Detailed descriptions of the various manifestations of each orisha make this one of the most comprehensive books on the subject, while the complex issue of Santeria ritual, which can include animal sacrifice, is handled unsensationally but vividly. This book should be part of any collection intended to represent the breadth of American religious experience. --Patricia Monaghan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Santeria is one of the nation's fastest-growing religions, but few Euro-Americans know much about it, and what they do know often tends to be wrong or grossly stereotyped. In Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America, Hope College religion professor Miguel De La Torre explores the history, rituals, myths and practices of this understudied religion. De La Torre, who grew up in the tradition, does not wish to "condemn or condone" it, but to help novice readers understand it in a fair and balanced way. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his new book, De La Torre succeeds fully in giving us the best general introduction to Santeria, an Afro-Cuban folk religion brought to the United States by Cuban refugees after Castro's 1959 revolution. The author of the award-winning Reading the Bible from the Margins, he draws on both lived experience (having grown up in the religion) and scholarly expertise (he teaches religious studies at Hope Coll., Holland, MI) to strike just the right balance between the personal perspectives of the faithful and the distance of a non-believing scholar. As he recounts the legendary tales of the orishas (spirit deities), he is both concise and engaging. However, De La Torre stresses Santeria's role as a practical religion that, through its rituals, offers believers concrete ways of coping with life's challenges. Ultimately, he portrays it as a "religion of resistance" that has helped marginalized and relatively powerless people adapt to the dominant culture, first in Cuba and more recently in the United States. Strongly recommended.-Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is by far the best available introduction to Santeria. De La Torre (Hope College) grew up in a Catholic family in Queens, NY, where Santeria was practiced; though he now calls himself an outsider, he retains an insider's sympathetic understanding of the movement. Written in clear but pleasant prose, the book describes the legends, rituals, and oracles of the religion as well as its historical development and contemporary social functions. A number of well-designed charts further clarify the names, identities, and powers of the various orishas. Though methodologically informed, the book in general adopts a way-of-life interpretation of Santeria that makes it accessible to a wide reading audience. The only critique that could possibly be made of this book is that De La Torre has perhaps made the eclectic practice of Santeria almost too coherent and comprehensible; however, most readers will find that clarity a strength. This is a fine trade book, and would also be an excellent textbook for courses dealing with American religion or Cubano life and culture. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers. D. Jacobsen Messiah College

Table of Contents

Tablesp. viii
Figuresp. x
Prefacep. xi
1. Santeria: What Is It?p. 1
2. Creationp. 31
3. The Orishas and Their Legendsp. 57
4. The Ritualsp. 101
5. Oraclesp. 139
6. Historical Rootsp. 157
7. A Religion of Resistancep. 189
8. An Emerging Religion within a Christian Environmentp. 205
Glossaryp. 225
Bibliographyp. 235
Indexp. 241