Intimate Rites: Localizing Queerness through Ancestral Spiritualities in Contemporary Zimbabwe

Raffaella Taylor Seymour, Comparative Human Development

Raffaella’s research interests include the politics of gender and sexuality, religion and spirituality, subjectivity, and African Studies. Broadly, she is interested in the production of religious beliefs and practices, on the one hand, and changing cultural understandings about gender and sexuality, on the other. Her dissertation investigates these themes by examining how young people in Zimbabwe are developing new expressions of queerness through the reinvention of spiritual practices involving ancestors. In Zimbabwe, nationalist politicians and religious leaders frame same-sex intimacies as imports from the West, opposed to both African traditions and Christianity. In response, Western donors have poured millions into defending the rights of LGBTQ Africans, who they view as victims of religious and cultural persecution. Yet young queer Zimbabweans participate in and move between LGBTQ organizations, Pentecostal churches, and sites associated with traditional religious practices. Raffaella’s dissertation shows how young queer Zimbabweans are inspired by Pentecostalism to revive ancestral spiritual practices. In the process, she argues that queer Zimbabweans simultaneously remake ancestral spirituality through ideas taken from LGBTQ organizing and localize understandings of queerness in Zimbabwe.


Raffaella Taylor-Seymour is a UK-US Fulbright Scholar and PhD Candidate in the Departments of Anthropology and Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She received her undergraduate degree in Archaeology & Anthropology from King’s College, Cambridge, and received the inaugural Fulbright-Diamond Family Foundation Award for research in Africa in support of her doctoral studies. Raffaella is the recipient of the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, the Association for Feminist Anthropology's Dissertation Award, the Association for the Sociology of Religion’s Joseph H. Fichter Award, and the Robert Lemelson Foundation Fellowship. At the University of Chicago she has been awarded the Bernice Neugarten Award and the Orin Williams Fellowship, and her field research has been funded by the Center for International Social Science Research, the Committee on African Studies, and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.