Dealing with extraordinary experiences in the field: John of God's spiritual surgeries in Brazil
(Western Sydney University)
Paper short abstract:
There has been a growing body of anthropological literature which endeavours to take seriously other peoples' beliefs. Here I discuss my research with John of God, a Brazilian healer. I argue that we must engage with extraordinary experiences to decolonise anthropology.
Paper long abstract:
There has been a growing body of anthropological literature which endeavours to take seriously other peoples' beliefs, religious practices and cosmology and by doing so decolonise anthropology. Many researchers have documented the efficacy of rituals, sacred words, and incantations they encountered (and sometimes learned) in the field. Here I follow the insights of experiential anthropology, anthropology of humanism and of consciousness to challenge the positivist Cartesian dichotomies of supernatural/natural, unreal/real, and the West/the Rest, which have constituted our discipline. I do so by discussing my fieldwork research with Western followers of John of God, a Brazilian Spiritist healer who has become famous worldwide by performing physical surgeries in which he cuts people open, scrape their eyes with a kitchen knife, or inserts surgical scissors deep in their noses, all without asepsis or anaesthetics. I argue that we should think the supernatural as an extension of the natural and refrain from explaining it through our Western Enlightenment heritage. We must engage with and report extraordinary experiences in the field in order not only to understand the Other, but importantly to decolonise anthropology.
Moral highground? Magic, witchcraft and spiritual encounters