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New professor Sonya Johnson talks religion, yoga and meditative practice


In a corner office of MI stuffed with books, posters plastered on the wall, and an atmosphere so cozy you could fall asleep there, you’ll find Visiting Assistant Professor Sonya Johnson. The newest addition to the religious studies department, Johnson “hope[s] to contribute [her] energies and excitement to what Beloit has established by understanding of inclusive learning environments. [She] hopes to bring [her] energies to that, with a specific interest in looking via the lense of religious practices of African descendants throughout the globe.”

This year, Professor Johnson is teaching classes that relate to her area of research, “religion inside the African diaspora with an emphasis on the Atlantic. [She] work[s] in eastern Cuba, and [she] studied the religious tradition Palomonte Mayombe, Kongolese and AmerIndian. Those are the native populations of Cuba, [an] inspired religious practice that focuses on maintaining intimate relationships with the ancestors of that particular landscape.” At the end of her courses, Johnson wants students “to have an emboldened sense, an empowered sense, of what it means to be an independent thinker and how to process sources for the integrity of what they’re presenting. And then integrate that as a part of their learning platform.” In a broader sense, Johnson hopes to inspire “life long learners.”

Johnson went to Michigan State University for her master’s degree in anthropology and her dual Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology and African-American and African studies.

When obtaining her bachelor’s degrees, Johnson stayed closer to home at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her upbringing greatly influenced her choice in major. “I was raised with six siblings. … Certainly being in a house full of nine people, and plenty of pets gave me a perspective of how to keep … human-centered interest in everyday occurrence as well as negotiating with multiple different personalities at the forefront. It also helped me focus in on certain things in loud situations. It definitely made me a people person.”

Johnson double majored at UC-Boulder, first in ethnic studies with a major concentration on African American studies and a minor in Chicana/Chicano studies. Her other major was in anthropology, with a focus on primatology and forensics.

Through her graduate program, Johnson, a certified 500 yoga instructor, honed the mental aspects of her yoga practice, such as meditation, breathwork, and incorporating some of the ethical principles. Her “favorite practice in yoga is inversions. [She] [can] do a mean headstand, several actually.” Johnson has been interested in yoga since the age of 13, and has been active in her physical practice since the age of 19. She looks forward to the opportunity to guest teach at Beloit. Hopefully students will have an opportunity to learn from professor Johnson not only in the classroom, but through yoga as well.

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