The journal emerged out of the intellectual collaboration of Sylvester Johnson and Edward Curtis. They became aware of each other around 2000, when they appeared on an American Academy of Religion annual meeting panel celebrating and critiquing the work of the great C. Eric Lincoln. (Stephen Ray and the late Mary Sawyer were on that panel, too.)
In 2005, Prof. Curtis landed a job at the IUPUI Department of Religious Studies and in 2006, Prof. Johnson was appointed associate professor at IU Religious Studies. They swapped ideas, attended each other’s talks, and worked together on an Indiana University Press book, The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religions. One day around 2011–they may have been at the WonderLab Museum–they came up with the idea for the journal, an academic outlet that would focus on religion in both Africa and in the global African diaspora.
Reaching out to thirty-five other scholars who were experts in African, U.S. African American, African European, and African Latinx and Caribbean religions, the co-founders sought the advice of a group that was roughly half women and half men, one that included historians, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, Black studies scholars, and sociologists. The positive response of these scholars was immediate and reassuring, and the co-founders relied on their support and advice to design a full proposal for a journal that would embody, advocate, and develop an Africana purview on religion.
The official sponsorship of ASWAD, the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora was then sought, and after exploring various publication options, a contract was signed with Penn State University Press. Prof. Johnson moved to the Department of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, which became the journal’s first editorial office. Both editors pledged their labor and significant financial support from their own research budgets toward the launch of the journal and its operation during the first five years. The first issue, a which featured articles from seven board members, was published in 2013.