Brian Smithson headshot

Brian Smithson


Dissertation Title:
Aesthetics of Praise: Making Movies Religious in Bénin

Brian C. Smithson is a cultural anthropologist who studies the audiovisual cultures and religions of West Africa. As a Woodson Research Associate, Brian is completing a book titled Aesthetics of Praise: Making Movies Religious in Bénin—a story about cash-strapped movie producers, Christian–Muslim animosities, and professional rivalries in Yorùbá-speaking Bénin. The book shows how moviemakers overcome these hurdles by championing Yorùbá indigenous religion, its ethical principles, and its moral demands. The movies they make borrow from African art cinema and Nigeria's Nollywood alike. Yet it's in producing these movies—in those moments when Muslims and Christians work together on sets and in studios—that video filmmakers come up with a common language to appeal to potential patrons and honor shared religious attachments. In the process, they champion a religious field where Yorùbá indigenous religion provides an essential resource to shape political possibilities across religions, borders, and oceans in the face of global trends that lead to religious division and economic insecurity in Africa. 

Brian's work draws from his experience as an apprentice video filmmaker in Bénin, and his co-production of a full-length, Yorùbá-language movie under the guidance of several Yorùbá filmmakers. Brian earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and a master's degree in African Studies at UCLA. He has taught at Duke, Bowdoin College, and UVA.

Post-fellowship placement: Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Mary's College of Maryland

Duke University