Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Brown, Ras Michael


The dissertation examines the significant yet historically marginalized Backtime Religion of the Danish West Indies (present-day United States Virgin Islands), an African Heritage religion that established spiritual connections between regions and peoples of Sub-Saharan West Africa and the enslaved people of the Caribbean. The timeline encompassed in the dissertation is 1700-1880, a period which includes the era of slavery and the post-slavery or estate serfdom era, which ended following the Fireburn labor revolt. During that time, most African-descended people in the Danish West Indies lived in slave villages on the sugar estates. Using musical improvisation as an investigative methodology, this dissertation argues the Backtime Religion was a distinct African heritage religion and included a musical/performance repertoire drawn from numerous West African traditions, a communopathic and spirit-centered pharmocosm or folk medical complex administered by Weed Women, Moravian and other Christianities adopted by enslaved people for their own spiritual benefit, and divination and related material cultures from the African Caribbean discourse called Obeah. This religion was centered within the slave villages established on each sugar estate, and grew to include churches, weekend markets, and other spaces that were useful to the enslaved population of the Danish West Indies.




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