Tony Van Der Meer Ph.D., is a 2017 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University

Dr, Laura Morgan Roberts, Committee Member, [left] with Dr. Van Der Meer at his Dissertation Defense.

Dissertation Committee

  • Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laura Morgan Roberts, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Tim Sieber, Ph.D., Committee Member


African Belief Systems, Ifa, Orisa, Orisha, Orisha Vodo, Santeria, Lucumi, Regala de Ocha, Traditional Yoruba Belief System, Transformational Spiritual Practice, Ethnography, Methodology, Leadership Studies, Leadership and Change, Religion, Divinity, Spirituality

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The purpose of this study is to understand the culture of one of the newest branches of traditional Yorùbá Ifá/Òrìṣà practice in the United States from practitioners born in the United States that were initiated in Nigeria, West Africa.The epistemology of the Ifá/Òrìṣà belief system in the United States has been based on the history and influence of Regla de Ocha or Santeria that developed out of Cuban innovation and practice.This is an ethnographic and auto-ethnographic study that pulls from participant observation, field notes, interviews, and photos as data.The central question of this dissertation is what are the challenges and opportunities for this branch of practitioners in the United States who were initiated in the Ifá/Òrìṣà practice in Nigeria?Some of the main findings indicate that the opportunities include:opening doors intellectually and spiritually about African philosophical thought and ethics were that:it instills a sense of spiritual discipline; it lays the foundation, giving confidence that one can achieve what they set their minds to; and, it offers spiritual technologies and systems that are liberating and relevant in the Unites States in terms of identity, direction, and purpose.Some of the challenges included:a rugged Nigerian experience, and cultural change; a transformative experience from the initiation rituals; understanding and learning the Yorὺbá language; and, the contradiction of Africa being the idea of utopia.The challenges in the United States also included:understanding and learning the Yorὺbá language; understanding the different systems of practice in the Ifá/Òrìṣà belief system; the role of women as Ifá priests; ecological concerns in disposing ritual sacrifices; accessibility to traditional (African) ritual items; issues of acceptance, inclusion, and exclusion on the basis of race, gender, and sexual identities from other systems of Ifá/Òrìṣà practice; and, developing new communities of practice base on the experiences of this newest branch of practitioners.


Tony Van Der Meer, Ph.D.

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Tony Menelik Van Der Meer is a Senior Lecturer in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston.He’s been a social justice activist over the past 40 years as well as a practitioner in the Yoruba belief system.He was initiated into Ifá in Oyo, Nigeria under Dr. Wande Abimbola. In addition to receiving the title Akogun Awo Alaafin of Oyo, he was also given the post of Asoju Esin Ati Asa Yoruba (representative or ambassador of Yoruba Religion and Culture) from the late Ooni (King) of Ile Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse II. He is a practicing Babalawo serving members in the greater Boston Community with their spiritual practice and development. Tony has a Master’s of Science degree in Community Economic Development from the Graduate School of Business at New Hamphire College, and a PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University.