Accepted paper:

Doubt, uncertainty and expectations in the construction of ritual interaction between the Peruvian Amazon and Europe


Silvia Mesturini (LAMC-ULB)
Anne Marie Losonczy (E.P.H.E.)

Paper short abstract:

This panel examines a particular sort of uncertainty and doubt that involves a search for proof concerning the existence of a “world beyond material reality”. Within this frame, we shall interrogate the increasing occidental interest for a particular shamanic practice, linked to Amerindian rituality, and centered on the ritual intake of the psychoactive ayahuasca.

Paper long abstract:

Our panel is based on the ethnography of rituals inspired by Amerindians, addressed to an occidental audience enticed by the consumption of the Amazonian psychoactive beverage known as ayahuasca. This multi-sited ethnography has been conducted between 2004 and 2010 in both the Peruvian Amazon (the city of Iquitos and certain communities along the Ucayali River) and Europe (mainly Paris and Brussels). These observations led us to examine the cognitive and emotional mechanisms that respond to a diffuse cultural disquiet and reshape ontological doubts among occidental users, leading them to attribute efficacy to these Amerindian rituals. In fact, the participation in rituals accomplished by ethnical shamans of different Amerindian origins or by Occidentals initiated by them, constitute, for the occidental audience, a demonstration of their critical attitude towards their own religious dogmas and cultural certitudes. Nevertheless, this critique, or "cultural disappointment", seems to reinforce, paradoxically, the ontological doubt of the participants, a doubt cast on the very existence and power of supernatural/spiritual indigenous entities, supposed to give them protection and well-being. A common international language and representations about shamanism and ayahuasca circulate between Europe, North and South America, owing to the mobility of the ritual experts and users, the World Wide Web, and testimonial literature. This language and representations prefigure the users' expectations in order to announce the ritual experience as an upcoming proof. The ritual efficacy becomes, at the same time, a congruence between the experience and the expectation and as an actual possibility of solving existentialist questions.

panel W087
Dealing with doubts, putting to test: the importance of uncertainty in vernacular religion