Legality of Human Remain Usage in Syncretic Religions

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Many Caribbean immigrants in the United States practice syncretic religions, including the Ocha and the Palo belief systems. In some of the religious rituals, human and animal remains are utilized. For example, the Palo religion uses ngangas as a ritual artifact. The ngangas can contain some human and nonhuman remains, as well as other small objects. This can sometimes cause legal conflict particularly involving the appropriation of human remains. However, it is important to understand the legal aspects concerning the use of remains in these rituals along with religious freedom in the United States. This research will observe the legality of the appropriation of human and animal remains in syncretic religious practices. To test this hypothesis, an anthropological, textual approach will be used to understand the history and meaning behind the different syncretic rituals through the analysis of peer-review journal articles and other primary sources. A historical approach will also be used when examining legal issues about the rituals that require the use of remains through the analysis of past court cases. This research provides insight into the legal and social conflicts some Caribbean immigrants who practice syncretic religions in the United States, such as the Ocha and the Palo, have to face because of their ritualistic appropriation of remains.

First Advisor

Saige Kelmelis

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