Yolanda Covington-Ward

  • Department Chair
  • Associate Professor of Africana Studies


4148 Wesley W. Posvar Hall

Curriculum Vitae



  • BA, Afro-American Studies (with Honors), Brown University
  • MA, Anthropology, University of Michigan
  • PhD, Anthropology, University of Michigan

Professional Affiliations/Activities

  • American Anthropological Association
  • Association for Africanist Anthropology
  • Association of Black Anthropologists
  • African Studies Association
  • National Council for Black Studies

Public Service (National/International)

  • Secretary of the Association for Africanist Anthropology (2009-2013)
  • Advisory Board Member, Union of African Communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Recent Publications

  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. “Your Name is Written in the Sky”: Unearthing the Stories of Kongo Female Prophets in Colonial Belgian Congo, 1921-1960” Journal of Africana Religions2(3):317-346.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. 2013. “Transforming Communities, Recreating Selves: Interconnected Diasporas, Performance, and the Shaping of Liberian Immigrant Identity.”  Africa Today. 60:1.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. 2013. “Fighting Phantoms: Mammy, Matriarch, and other Ghosts Haunting Black Mothers in the Academy,” In Laboring Positions: Black Women, Mothering, and the Academy, Sekile Johnson, Editor, Demeter Press, Pp. 236 – 256.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward.  2012. “Vive l’ABAKO! Vive l’Independance!  Joseph Kasa-Vubu, ABAKO, and Performances of Kongo Nationalism in the Congolese Independence Movement,” Journal of Black Studies Vol. 41, No. 1: 71-93.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward, Siatta Dennis, Katie Reding, Anthony Simpson, and Megan Willison. 2011. “The Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Recent Liberian Immigrants to the United States: An Update” Liberian Studies Journal Vol. 36(1): 25-52.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. October 2010. Book Review Essay: “Danced Nations, Performed Identities: Ethnographic Perspectives on Power and Performance in Africa.” Transforming Anthropology Vol. 18(2):207-210.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. 2009. “A Guide to Africanist Research in the Archive of the American Baptist Historical Society.” African Research and Documentation No. 111:21-29.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. 2007. “Threatening Gestures, Immoral Bodies: The Intersection of Church, State, and Kongo Performance in the Belgian Congo,” In Missions, States, and European Expansion in Africa. Chima Korieh and Raphael Njoku, eds. New York: Routledge Press. Pg 73-100.
  • Yolanda Covington-Ward. 2006. “South Bronx Performances: The Reciprocal Relationship between Hip-Hop and Black Girls’ Play.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory Volume 16, No. 1: 117-132.

Recent Conference Papers

  • December 2014, Washington, DC, Annual Conference of the American Anthropological Association. *Organizer of a Panel entitled " Digital Diasporas: African Migrants, Mediated Communication, and Trasnational Identities".  Title of Paper: "Digital Transnationalism, Sonic Diasporas: Liberians Connecting through On-line Radio".
  • November 2014, Indianapolis, IN, Annual Conference of the African Studies Association.  Title of Paper: "Embodiment, Belonging, and Self-Making in Religious Conversion Narratives in the Lower Congo".
  • October 2014, Indianapolis, IN, Annual Confeence of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.  Title of Paper:  "The Body as Center: Embodiment as a Method in the Study of African Religious Movements".
  • October 2013, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 7th Biennial Conference, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD).  *Chair of Panel Entitled "Media, Clture, and Public Expression in the African Diaspora".
  • November 2013, Chicago, IL, Annual Conference of the American Anthropological Association. *Organizer of Double Panel entitled "African Migrants and the Politics of Place: Identity, Community, Power" with ten panelists and two discussants.  Title of Paper: "Eating FuFu in the Steel City: The Social Integration of Liberian Immigrants in Pittsburgh;" *Discussant on Panel Entitled "Powers of Narrative: Spiritual Imaginaries and the Ethnography of the Particular"
  • December 2012, Philadelphia, PA, Annual Conference of the African Studies Association. Title of Paper: “Trembling Bodies, Inspired Visions: Bangunza Narratives and Embodied Callings in the Lower Congo.”
  • November 2012, San Francisco, CA, ​Annual Conference of the American Anthropological Association. Title of Paper: “Trembling Prophets and Performative Encounters: Embodied Resistance in Colonial Belgian Congo, 1921-1960.”
  • September 2012, Pittsburgh, PA, Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Title of Paper: “Female Saints, Nationalism, and Everyday Performances in Early 18th century Kongo.”
  • March 2012, Ithaca, NY, Annual Conference of the Liberian Studies Association. Title of Paper: “Connecting Diaspora and Homeland: Liberians Creating Community through On-Line Radio.”
  • February 2012, Carlisle, PA, Central Pennsylvania Consortium Africana Studies Conference. Title of Paper: “Everyday Performances in the Liberian Diaspora: Creating Community through On-Line Radio Discourse.”

Research Interests

My research interests revolve around the relationship between social connections, interpersonal interactions, and group identities, and how they impact and are impacted by physical bodies. I have examined these relationships in regards to gender, religion and nationalism, and am now turning my interests to self-perceived health and well-being.  I have conducted extensive ethnographic research in the Democratic Republic of Congo and amongst Liberian communities in the United States. My monograph, tentatively titled “Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in the Congo,” blends history and ethnography to argue that everyday cultural performances in interpersonal encounters are crucial sites for staking political and religious claims. Using the BisiKongo ethnic group as a case study, I focus on incidents of “performative encounters” in which the body is used strategically to transform interpersonal social relationships in meaningful ways, through gestures (bimpampa), dances (makinu), and spirit possession (kuzakama). My current research examines the adjustment and acculturation experiences of Liberian immigrants in the United States, and their effects on group identity formation and self-perceived health.

Ongoing Research

  • “Sullying the Dress of Angels: White Cloth, Gender and Routinization in a Kongo Church” (In Progress)
  • “The Social Integration of Liberian Immigrants in Pittsburgh” (In Progress)
  • “Sonic Diasporas: Liberians Creating Community Online” (In Progress)
  •  “Creating Community and Identity: Liberians in the Diaspora” (Book manuscript in Progress)
  • “Social Connectedness, Identity, and Well-Being among Liberians in the United States” (In Progress)

Areas of Specialization

  • Performance and Identity
  • African Immigrants
  • Religion and Politics
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Interpersonal Relations