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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Diaspora: An Introduction

Event Recap

Diaspora is a Greek term that describes a scattering or dispersion of people from their ancestral homeland. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, the term was used to describe the population of Jews forced into exile during the Babylonian captivity, and the concept of “diaspora” thus took on theological significance. In the last fifty years, however, the term has been embraced by (or simply applied to) other groups who have been separated from their homeland voluntarily or involuntarily. To understand these new developments and their implications for contemporary social and political thought, the Boisi Center invited Kevin Kenny, professor of history at BC and author of the forthcoming Diaspora: An Introduction, to speak on September 19 about his research on the issue.

Kenny offered a rich historical account of how the concept of diaspora proliferated among scholars and non-scholars alike in the twentieth century. From the displacement caused by the Irish potato famine to the forced removal and enslavement of Africans in the Americas, the concept has now expanded to include the movement of people related to decolonization, international refugees, and other political and economic migratory circumstances. Today’s global diasporas may involve interconnected communities around the world tied together by a common heritage who may or may not focus on a return to that original place. Kenny argued that while the term has sometimes been stretched beyond its limits, it nevertheless has great value in helping us understand the relations of people and places.