Though he did not live to see the end of the historic project, Dr. Fred Case’s spirit was alive at last Friday’s launch of The Encyclopaedia of Caribbean Religions he and former York University department of humanities chair Dr. Patrick Taylor co-edited.
Representing the culmination of over a decade of work by an international collaborative project headed by Dr. Taylor, the two-volume book covers the world’s religions as they manifest themselves and are transformed in the Caribbean context.
The volumes, which help to foster a greater understanding of religion’s role in Caribbean life and society, have been dedicated to the memory of Dr. Case who passed away in May 2008.
Humble and uncomplicated, the academically gifted scholar made a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of students and faculty members at the University of Toronto where he taught for almost four decades before retiring in 2006 to take up an appointment as an English lecturer at the University of Guyana.
Among the first batch of Black university professors in Ontario in the 1960s, Case chaired the U of T French department and was principal of New College. He also lectured widely in several countries, published numerous articles in journals on issues of race and on the social and historical contexts of racism in Canada and authored Racism and National Consciousness and The Crisis of Identity: Studies in the Guadeloupean and Martiniquan Novel.
Patrick Case, the younger brother of Fred Case and a member of the volume’s editorial board, acknowledged Taylor for finishing the massive project.
“Fred was extremely pleased to be part of this project,” he said. “I knew when he started and he talked to me about it until he died. His love for Caribbean religions didn’t start with this project. We grew up with stories about the way in which Christianity was practiced in Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean.”
Losing their father, Edward, at a young age, strengthened the brothers’ bond.
“I have to hold back my emotions while I am here,” said Case, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph and board chair of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. “His memory is still very much with me until the day I die. He was not only a brother. He took the place of my father for most of my life. When I came to Canada in the late 1960s and for quite some time after that, Fred was also my very best friend. His passing was a blow to me and my family.”
Taylor, a Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) fellow, said working with Fred Case was quite inspiring.
“I first met Fred when I was a graduate student at the U of T and I was looking for Caribbean courses,” Taylor said. “He agreed to let me sit in on his graduate courses and that was where I was introduced to Caribbean religions.”
A total of 176 contributors participated in the project. They include university professors Carl James, Andrea Davis, Keith Lowe, Maxine Wood and Carol Duncan.
“This encyclopaedia is important because it presents a comprehensive overview of religious traditions in the Caribbean from a Caribbean perspective and also from practitioners and scholars from a variety of disciplines,” said Duncan who is the chair of the department of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the author of This Spot of Ground: Spiritual Baptists in Toronto. “It includes the traditions that are unique to the Caribbean region in terms of their historical development and what some may refer to as major world religions like Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.”
Editorial board member Dr. Ramabai Espinet said the book stands out because of its originality.
“It’s the only one of its kind, it fills a gap in Caribbean studies and it’s inclusive,” she said. “It brings together practitioners, community people and those who would not ordinarily have a voice. It’s really a unique platform to reflect and think about Caribbean religions.”
Generously illustrated, the encyclopaedia is a landmark project that combines the breadth of a comparative approach to religion with the depth of understanding of Caribbean spirituality as an ever-shaping and varied historical phenomenon.
Alphabetically organized, entries examine how Caribbean religious experiences have been shaped by and have responded to the processes of colonialism and the challenges of the post-colonial world. It also examines religious traditions and explores topics such as religious rituals, beliefs, practices, specific historical developments, geographical differences and gender roles within major traditions.