"Most voodoo temples in Port-au-Prince function as social-services agencies, medical centers, psychologists, and places for trade," said McAlister. "Voodoo priests and priestesses perform a function like social workers. Temples form imaginary families in which congregations are the children of priest and priestess, who are often charismatic local leaders."
Thus far, in the days after the devastating quake, public religious displays have been reserved. Haitian citizens meet on the streets -- what Port-au-Prince resident Richard Morse, via Twitter, called the city's "new living rooms" -- for makeshift prayer gatherings, like this one recorded by "Nightline" Wednesday.
American religious institutions are moving millions of dollars in aid to help Haiti, but some evangelical leaders, like Robertson, have used a centuries-old Haitian legend as justification for believing the country is in league with the devil.
"You know, something happened a long time ago in Haiti. They got together and swore a pact to the devil," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club" Wednesday.
"They said, 'We will serve you if you get us free from the French.' True story."
The comments sparked a backlash, with many accusing Robertson of implying that the Haitians were responsible for the earthquake.
A spokesman for Robertson's CBN tried to clarify the pastor host's comments, saying, "Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath.
"His comments were based on the widely discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed," CBN spokesman Chris Roslan said in a statement.