Ph.D., Dual Major, Anthropology and African American & African Studies, Michigan State University.

M.A., Anthropology, Michigan State University.

B.A., Dual Major, Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, University of Colorado-Boulder, summa cum laude.

Courses Taught

  • Sex, Race & Power: Concepts for Everyday Life
  • Religious Environments of the Black Atlantic: The Caribbean & Latin America
  • Movements within the African Diaspora
  • Rethinking Race in Cuba
  • Decolonizing the Anthropology of Religion
  • Curative Communities
  • Radical Empathy
  • Visual Narration: Ritual & Art in the African Diaspora
  • Integrative Studies in Social Science: Individual and Society
  • Cross-cultural Qualitative Field Research Methods: Cuba; Ghana; San Andrés Island, Columbia; Port of Spain, Trinidad

Research Interests

Religion and ritual

Culture, identity, and power in the African Atlantic Diaspora



African American Studies

Anthropology of religion

Epistemology and Religious Thought in the African Atlantic Diaspora


Radical Pedagogies

Qualitative field research methods


Courtney Dorroll and Sonya Maria Johnson. Radical Care: Pedagogies of the Heart. In progress and under contract with University of Colorado Press. 

2016 Johnson, Sonya Maria. “African-inspired Rituals in the Atlantic World, Oriente, Cuba.” In Religion and Society series, volume 2, Religion Experienced Through Rituals and Pilgrimage, Anastasia Panagakos, volume editor, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers.

Sonya Maria Johnson

Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Critical Identity Studies,
Mouat Junior Professor of International Studies

 Pronouns: she/her/hers  Email:  Phone: 608-353-2333  Office: Morse-Ingersoll Hall

On Teaching…

As a teacher, I guide students through the challenging yet liberating practices of constantly and persistently pressing into the edges of our understanding with empathy. We do this to harness the power of connecting our humanity to others’ experiences. I believe that becoming an effective professional begins in the classroom, so I organize each class to coach students on how to prioritize respectful interactions to practice being an effective communicator and professionally agile. I encourage students to use curiosity as a tool for lifelong learning so that every day serves as a lab of ideas in which to refine our individual and collective practices to build mutually supportive, brave spaces.

I set up each classroom as a workroom for students to process ideas that call into question how knowledge is constructed and by whom, and importantly, to see themselves as active agents in that process. I find it humbling and enlivening to witness students’ unflinching courage in confronting issues and experiences of social inequities, engaging with the pain of living, and seeking to thrive within global racialized systems that marginalize and dehumanize a large variety of communities.

On Advising & Mentoring…

As an advisor, I ensure that students have access to information and resources that enable them to advance successfully through their training for a particular career stage. Mentoring I see as supporting individuals in the process of translating the significance of their training—how it might impact their life circumstances and how it relates to their overall vocational life journey. As a mentor, I frame students’ time at Beloit College as that of young professionals developing the skills of critical listening, written, and verbal communication, effective collaboration, and fluid navigation of ideas in multiple settings. This approach interlocks seamlessly with the college’s integrated learning outcomes. From the beginning of their time on campus, I mentor students to be confident and ready to meet personal and professional challenges with care, focus, and courage. My objective is to provide a safe space for individuals to experiment with ideas and practices to nurture different aspects of their humanity in service to their chosen vocation. My overarching goal is to help others see and center their holistic wellness in their enduring learning process.

On Research…

My current research reflects on how the religious tradition of Palo Monte/Mayombe, a fusion of AmerIndian Taíno and Kongolese ideas and rituals, within eastern Cuba offers conceptual insight into how the traumatic historical reality of enslavement provides directives on living ethically within diasporal communities. I offer alternative framings for utilizing enslavement and other social maligning practices as part of a diasporal community’s origin story for social transformation through healing. This work comes from how I’ve been teaching about the powerful ways marginal communities reclaim aspects of their social exclusion to transform their circumstances of diaspora. I explore what these epistemic shifts might offer us regarding viewing humanity beyond a binary and racialized framing.

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