Laënnec Hurbon

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Laënnec Hurbon
Born1940 (age 77–78)
Jacmel, Haiti
Alma materInstitut Catholique de Paris, Sorbonne University
OccupationSociologist of religion[1]

Laënnec Hurbon (sometimes anglicised as Laennec Hurbon; born 1940) is a Haitian sociologist and writer specialised in the relationships between religion, culture and politics in the Caribbean region.[2] He is an ex-priest turned researcher and writer.[3][4]


Hurbon was born in Jacmel, a commune in southern Haiti. He is Doctor of Theology (Institut Catholique de Paris) and Sociology (Sorbonne University),[5] director of research at CNRS and professor at the Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, of which he is one of the founding members.[6] Today he focuses on the relationships between religion, culture and politics in the Caribbean region and has written many books on Haitian Vodou.[6]

His notable publications are the Dieu dans le Vaudou haïtien (1972) and Le Barbare imaginaire (1987), which have been described as “two classics” of the author; and the “small ‘big book’” – Les mystères du vaudou (1993, US ed. – Voodoo: Search for the Spirit),[7] which is a heavily illustrated pocket book from Éditions Gallimard’s “Découvertescollection. He also edited a collective work entitled Catastrophes et environnement : Haïti, séisme du 12 janvier 2010 (2014).[8]

Les mystères du vaudou[edit]

Les mystères du vaudou
Les mystères du vaudou (Découvertes Gallimard, nº 190).jpg
First edition
AuthorLaënnec Hurbon
Original titleLes mystères du vaudou
TranslatorLory Frankel
Cover artistDenis Smith [ht] (FR & US eds.)
Edouard Duval-Carrié (UK ed.)
SeriesDécouvertes Gallimard●Religions
Release number
SubjectHaitian Vodou
PublisherFR: Éditions Gallimard
US: Abrams Books
UK: Thames & Hudson
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Paperback)
ISBN978-2-070-53186-8 (first edition)
Preceded byPremiers chrétiens, premiers martyrs
Followed byIl était une fois la Mésopotamie
US edition (left) and UK edition.

Rooted in the history of Haiti, Laënnec Hurbon presents us Vodou in this small but copiously illustrated book, entitled Les mystères du vaudou (lit. "The Mysteries of Vodou"; US edition – Voodoo: Search for the Spirit; UK edition – Voodoo: Truth and Fantasy), which Christiane Veauvy—a researcher at CNRS—calls it "a great achievement", and "the iconography is of exceptional beauty", in her article dedicated to this book.[9] After so many persecutions—those of the slave society, the Catholic Church, the racism, the horror sensations because of devils and zombies, also of Haitian authorities after the independence, even though Vodou has supported the freedom to slaves—after the drastic political exploitation by François Duvalier, Vodou remains "one of the most inalienable cultural resources of Haitian people". The book also suggests the complex role played by Vodou in the fall of Duvalier's dictatorship.

The plan of the work is dictated by this historico-political perspective, there are seven chapters: Ⅰ, "The Great Crossing"; Ⅱ, "Voodoo Hidden in the Hell of Slavery"; Ⅲ, "Campaigns Against Sorcery"; Ⅳ, "The Spirit of the 'Lwa'"; Ⅴ, "The Cult of the Dead"; Ⅵ, "'Manjé-Lwa', 'Dansé-Lwa': The Services"; Ⅶ, "An Astonishing Survival". The first three chapters trace the history of Vodou in Haiti from "the great crossing" to the time of the American occupation (1915–1934) and the advent of Duvalier (chap. Ⅲ), going through the period when "Vodou hidden in the hell of slavery" (chap. Ⅱ). It is only then that Hurbon systematically exposes the beliefs and practices of Vodou as a system articulating a mythology, rituals and standards of behaviour (chaps. Ⅳ–Ⅵ).

The last chapter is devoted to the "astonishing survival" of Vodou. Hurbon addresses the issue of the establishment of Protestant sects that "by passing off all the lwa as evil or satanic forces, the message of the Protestant sects revives the fantasy of sorcery", and also questions whether "Voodoo has a tendency to draw its worshippers towards the past, placing them under the authority of tradition (symbolized by the dead, the ancestors, the lwa) rather than more flexible rules, subject to modern rational thinking?" Whatever the case may be, Vodou is "a piece of worldwide cultural patrimony", and a civilisation "extending from Africa to the Americas". The following "Documents" section containing a compilation of excerpts which is divided into six parts: 1, The devil, voodoo and the missionaries; 2, The antisuperstitious campaigns; 3, How the lwa show themselves to humans; 4, For the rehabilitation of voodoo; 5, Voodoo in art; 6, People travel, so do spirits. These are followed by a glossary, chronology, further reading, list of illustrations and index. With this work, the reader can have a complete and excellent point about Vodou in its many dimensions.[10]

The book is profusely illustrated with colour plates—drawings, photographs, Haitian paintings, etc.—so it could also serve indirectly as a study of Haitian Vodou iconography. It has been translated into American and British English, Korean, Russian and Spanish. Professor Patrick Bellegarde-Smith notes that the original French edition printed many of the black and white photographs in the "Documents" section on better paper than the English edition; and also the mistranslation of the term Vaudou by using Voodoo instead of Vodou.[7]


Publications by Hurbon[edit]

  • Dieu dans le Vaudou haïtien. Éditions Payot, 1972
  • Culture et dictature en Haïti : l’imaginaire sous contrôle. L’Harmattan, 1979
  • Le Barbare imaginaire. Éditions Henri Deschamps, 1987
  • Comprendre Haïti : Essai sur l’État, la nation, la culture. Karthala, 1987
  • Le phénomène religieux dans la Caraïbe. Karthala, 1989
  • Les mystères du vaudou. Découvertes Gallimard (nº 190). série Religions. Éditions Gallimard, 1993
    • Voodoo: Truth and Fantasy. New Horizons. Thames & Hudson, 1995. UK edition
    • Voodoo: Search for the Spirit. Abrams Discoveries. Abrams Books, 1995. U.S. edition

Publication edited by Hurbon[edit]

  • Catastrophes et environnement : Haïti, séisme du 12 janvier 2010. Éditions de l’EHESS, 2014. Various authors.


  1. ^ "Les mystères du vaudou, collection Découvertes Gallimard (n° 190)". Éditions Gallimard. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  2. ^ "Biographie de Laënnec Hurbon". France Culture (in French). Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  3. ^ "The More Things Change-- Human Rights in Haiti". Google Books. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  4. ^ Joseph, Celucien L. (2016-08-31). "Redefining cultural, national, and religious identity: The Christian–Vodouist dialogue?". SAGE Journals. SAGE Publications. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  5. ^ "Laënnec Hurbon : Sociologue haïtien". (in French). Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  6. ^ a b Hurbon, Laënnec (1995). Voodoo: Truth and Fantasy. ‘New Horizons’ series. Translated by Frankel, Lory. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-500-30049-7. About the author
  7. ^ a b Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2000). "Review – Voodoo: Search for the Spirit. By Laënnec Hurbon". Ithaka Harbors. JSTOR 41715072.
  8. ^ "BIOGRAPHY: Laënnec Hurbon". Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  9. ^ Veauvy, Christiane (1993). "Laënnec Hurbon, Les mystères du Vaudou, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, (Coll. « Découvertes. Religions ») [compte-rendu]". (in French). Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  10. ^ Champion, Françoise (1997). "Hurbon (Laënnec). Les Mystères du vaudou [compte-rendu]". (in French). Retrieved 30 October 2018.