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IUAES 2013: Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds. 5-10 August 2013.

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Evolving humanity, emerging worlds

Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013

(WMW13)

The extended self: relations between material and immaterial worlds

Location Roscoe 1.001
Date and Start Time 08 Aug, 2013 at 09:00

Convenors

Fiona Bowie (King's College London) email
Emily Pierini (University of Wales Trinity Saint David) email
Jack Hunter email
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Short Abstract

The notion of human personhood in most cultures extends beyond the individual and their material existence. This panel will explore ethnographic approaches to relations between individual personhood, material and immaterial forms of existence.

Long Abstract

The tendency to see the individual as a material bounded entity with discrete boundaries, including the boundaries of a physical lifespan that defines a person as an individual, is largely a recent Western construct. We wish to invite proposals that explore the various ways people in many cultures, including Western ones, have expanded the notion of the individual, and of personhood to include relations with non-material entities and a life that goes beyond the boundaries of a single lifespan.

The topics addressed can include relations with non-material entities; the nature of non-material worlds; forms of communication, including mediumship, clairvoyance, shamanic journeying, meditation, out of body experience, spirit possession and healing. We invite approaches that are ethnographic and experiential Papers might include discussion of appropriate methodologies, ethical issues and ontologies. They might also tackle questions concerning personhood, consciousness, the mind and body, and their relation to materiality.

Chair: Dr Fiona Bowie

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The Trouble with Spirit Possession in Brazil

Author: Bettina Schmidt (University of Wales Trinity St David)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork conducted in São Paulo, Brazil this paper explores the relationship between possessing and possessed agencies. The focus will be on interviews with participants of possession rituals in Afro-Brazilian religious communities (mainly Candomblé and Umbanda) and Spiritist groups.

Long Abstract

The focus of this paper is on the understanding of the experience among people experiencing it, the mediums. The analysis is based on subjective narratives collected via open-ended interviews in São Paulo, Brazil. My aim was to explore the Brazilian possession religions adepts' view of the experience; however, it confronted me with the complex issue of how to include the ideas of devotees that have a possession experience inside an academic discourse without falling into non-academic, religiously motivated and un-scientific explanations.

In the centre of this paper are a variety of religions grouped together under the label Spiritism and Afro-Brazilian religions. Scholars usually describe this ensemble as a continuum of religious practices, with Kardecism on one end, the African derived traditions, such as Candomblé, on the other end and Umbanda in the middle. These traditions have in common rituals that embrace experience with spirits and deities, usually labelled as spirit possession. However, the term "possession" has gained a negative connotation in Brazil and practitioners prefer to describe their experience as incorporation, mediumship or merger. The problem with the correct terminology indicates already the complexity of the discourse.

I argue in this paper that spirit possession is at the cutting edge of the debate of the division between body and mind. Instead of locating the possession experience in the mind, and consequently making it a psychological event, this paper suggests a middle path that includes the bodily experience in the analysis, hence embraces the agencies of the possessing and the possessed.

Mediumship and Folk Models of Mind and Matter

Author: Jack Hunter  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the development of folk models of mind and matter as informed by the practice and experience of trance and physical mediumship, with a particular emphasis on folk models of consciousness.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore the role of experience in trance and physical mediumship, both for the medium and the sitter, in the development of folk models of mind and matter, with a particular emphasis on models of consciousness. Mediums and sitters often claim that mediumship has led them to understand the world differently, and to appreciate that the standard materialistic view of science is inadequate as an all encompassing model of reality. Certain key themes and concepts emerge from experiences with mediumship, including the idea that bodies are permeable, that matter is immaterial, that consciousness is far more expansive than our normal waking consciousness would lead us to believe and that persons are multiple and may be augmented by external spiritual entities. These themes will be explored through ethnographic interviews with mediums and sitters at a Bristol based Spiritualist home-circle, and will be analysed cross-culturally.

Mediumistic Experience and Notions of Selfhood in the Spiritualist Christian Order 'Vale do Amanhecer'

Author: Emily Pierini (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper addresses the practice of spirit mediumship in the Brazilian Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) through the approach of the anthropology of embodiment and of the senses. The discussion focuses on the process of mediumistic development and on the production of notions of Selfhood.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses the experience of spirit mediumship in the Spiritualist Christian Order 'Vale do Amanhecer' (Valley of the Dawn) in Brazil. The practice of spirit mediumship in the Vale is primarily concerned with the healing of patients through the release of discarnate spirits from the physical plane. Mediumship is understood in the Vale as a universal feature of all human beings and its practice as being culturally shaped in the mediumistic development according to the purposes for which it is used. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered during extensive fieldwork in Brazil, I explore the process of learning in mediumistic development through the approach of the anthropology of embodiment and of the senses. Focusing on conscious and semiconscious trance, and on the construction of mediums' relationship with their spirit mentors, I illustrate how notions of Selfhood are not merely transmitted as concepts of a spiritual doctrine but they are continuously produced in mediumistic experience.

Growing threads from depressed to expanded self

Author: Stephanie Marchal (Argyle Institute of Human Relations)  email
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Short Abstract

Psychotherapy that rests on the clinician's own connections to the invisible is described as a way of moving seriously depressed clients from isolation, through shared states, toward the client's self becoming a part of. The inspiration is neo-shamanic, Jungian and Ericksonian.

Long Abstract

This paper describes experiential psychotherapy work with three clients who exhibit serious symptoms of depression and/or suicidality. These clients appear to live with a subjective sense of isolation from, or a restrictive experience of being and identity.

While the form of the treatment is psychodynamic therapy, the inspiration is neo-shamanism as taught by Michael Harner. The techniques include guided imagery and active imagination commonly used in the Jungian tradition. Joanna Macy's "work that reconnects", and Milton Erickson's approaches are additional roots of such clinical work. The basic tenet is one wherein a person's connections to archetypes, stories, images and symbols, other people, as well as spiritual entities, whether existing outside or inside the person, are an elemental part of one's life and a place of resourcing and inspiration. Without such connections, the person falters and symptoms of unease and depression may arise.

This work challenges the Western understanding of personal boundaries as it makes use of the clinician's own connections to the invisible; these are then shared with the client when it seems useful, either through identification between clinician and client as equals, or through the enactment of developmentally corrective experiences. At such junctures of connection, client and clinician seem to enter shared states that resemble hypnotic ones, where the two can create change that the client consciously allows for. Thus, from isolated from, the self becomes part of. The healing involves experiential reparation that is believed to create actual threads between client and a larger world.

Mind and body or "mindbody"? The holistic views of a group of doctors and nurses in Iceland

Author: Sveinn Gudmundsson (University of Iceland)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper is on how a part of Icelandic doctors and nurses are widening their views on health, the person and the world by incorporating holistic ideas (like meditation, CAM therapies, reincarnation beliefs, mind and body connections) into their ideology regarding health and the human being.

Long Abstract

Prince and Riches (1999) describe the ideology of the New Age Movement (NAM) as a kind of self-spirituality where the goal is to liberate a transformative healing power that lies within the individual. Ryan (2002) argues that the world-views of NAM and complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) are a revolt against the dominant analytical mind-set of Western science and what Heelas (1996) describes as "problems of modernity". When conventional ideas and remedies have failed NAM and CAM provide new answers and fresh approaches.

The paper is based on an ongoing study among doctors and nurses in Iceland who are influenced by holistic ideas regarding health closely connected to the ideology behind NAM, CAM and various spiritual teachings. This includes a break from the dualistic view of mind and body as disconnected parts in favor of a perspective where physical, mental, social and spiritual factors form a holistic view of the mind and the body in relation to health. The methodology of the study includes semi-structured interviews and participant observations among a group of doctors and nurses in Iceland.

The doctors and nurses are opening up to holistic and alternative ways of healing and viewing the human being and the world. They are reconsidering their ideas about the mind and body connection, CAM therapies, the effect of meditation and positive thinking, the effect of trauma on a persons health (from this life or a previous one) and adding them to their personal worldview as well as their professional toolbox.

Self, Personhood and Possession

Author: Fiona Bowie (King's College London)  email
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Short Abstract

The notion of the self as a bounded entity is threatened by the idea that the spirit of someone who has died can enter the energy field of the living. This paper examines contemporary Western ideas of possession, often in a clinical setting, in relation to non-Western beliefs and practices.

Long Abstract

Funerary rites are designed to help the deceased person make a successful transition to the world of spirit. If this is not achieved a spirit may haunt or possess the living, with negative consequences for both the earthbound spirit and the person possessed. Anthropologists have studied possession and depossession beliefs and practices in many non-Western societies, but have paid less attention to similar practices in contemporary Western settings. The recurrence of ideas of possession, as with recent interest in other 'paranormal' phenomena, comes primarily not from religious groups, where such ideas are regarded as matters of faith, but from clinical and university settings. This presents a challenge for scientifically trained clinicians or academics, whose findings often display striking parallels with traditional non-Western and religious notions of possession. Common to all is the assertion that the spirit of a person has an independent post-mortem existence which can be disrupted, and intrude on the living, particularly where the deceased spirit experienced a 'bad death'. Possession invariably leads to sickness, and rituals of depossession are necessary to restore health to the living and to aid the deceased on their journey through the planes of the spirit world. The modern clinician often decides to adopt an 'as if' approach without making ontological claims concerning the veracity of such a view of self and spirit. Belief in such phenomena on the part of physician and patient does not seem to be a determinant in whether a cure can be affected using techniques of deposession.

Transpersonal Ether: Family and Religion in a Brazilian urban Setting

Authors: Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro)  email
Rachel Menezes (Instituto de Estudos em Saúde Coletiva/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)  email
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Short Abstract

A comparative study of personhood, religion and family among urban middle classes in Brazil, both in a circle of upper and highly cultivated social status (regarding transgenerational ties) and in a medical context of palliative care (regarding the propitiation of a good death).

Long Abstract

Urban middle classes in contemporary Western societies are considered as the main bearers of the individualistic ideology that is so intrinsic to modern cosmology. Under closer scrutiny it is possible to discern a much more complex organization of personhood, one that far exceeds the limits of the biopsychological units privileged by hegemonic knowledge systems. One line of ethnographic experience deals with the lived sense of family ties and kinship belonging, both in a synchronic and a diachronic dimension, involved in a quasi-religious aura. The other deals with the mingled experience of family belonging and religious encompassment in a medical setting. In the first case we rely on observation and interviews (life histories) with some members of upper middle classes in Rio de Janeiro concerning their relations with kin and with their family tradition and memories. In the second case we deal with observation and interviews with health personnel in the context of palliative medical institutions, dedicated to the propitiation of a good death for terminal patients. In both cases, prevails a deep and complex enmeshing of family and religion. Our interest is to discuss the general question of the conceptions of the self beyond individualistic models, to contribute to the understanding of the processes and characteristics of the extended personhood in 'modern' conditions, to explore the different circumstances in which these dimensions tend to become more explicit, as phenomenological limits and counterparts to the process of disenchantment that has characterized Western societies since, at least, the 17th century.

Half deity - half ghost: Trance possession and healing rituals in contemporary Singapore

Author: Fabian Graham (Max Planck Institute)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on conversations with the Chinese Underworld deity Tua Ya Pek tranced through his medium, to a backdrop of a healing ritual and the collection and preparation of graveyard medicines to cure leukaemia, this paper presents the perspectives of the deity on possession, the soul and the afterlife.

Long Abstract

Adopting a paranthropological approach to the study of Chinese Underworld deities as tranced through their mediums, this paper follows the ordeal of a girl dying from leukaemia who, afraid of death, approached the Underworld deity Tua Ya Pek, a discarnate entity half deity - half ghost for help. She first consulted him in his temple located on the eighth floor of an industrial building. The immediate result was a spectacular healing ritual that emotionally and physically exhausted the girl, simultaneously giving her a new lease of hope for the future. This was followed by the collecting of graveyard 'medicines' borrowed from graves after the permission of the dead had been ascertained through divination. The medicines were then ritually prepared and consumed before being returned to the cemetery. Being involved in every part of the process, this paper is written in the first person, the descriptions of events punctuated with conversations between Tua Ya Pek and myself on subjects relating to a discarnate entity possessing a human body, the nature of the soul, the Underworld and afterlife. The paranthropological approach adopts an emic perspective and highlights the beliefs and practices from the perspective of the possessing deity. The aim of this approach is to link the growing body of paranthropological discourse with ethnographic research on folk Taoism and Chinese spirit medium culture. The paper should therefore be read on two levels; as an ethnographic contribution to the study of spirit mediumship and to the growing body of contemporary paranthropological discourse.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Sponsors

Wenner-Gren Visit Manchester ASA RAI Manchester University