Accepted paper:

Spirits two steps removed: the transcending of the dead in a contemporary Brazilian religious movement

Authors:

Diana Espirito Santo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores some new theological developments in the 20th century Brazilian spirit mediumship tradition of Umbanda, and their dividends for a conceptualization of the agency of the dead.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores new theological developments in the 20th century Brazilian spirit mediumship tradition of Umbanda, and their dividends for a conceptualization of the dead. Umbanda is typically seen to deal with archetypal figures such as spirits of African slaves and native Brazilians. In dominant anthropological discourse these spirits are interpreted as mediators between a national historical consciousness and particular human experience; as vehicles for signs. In these accounts, the only "perspective" of the dead is "nation", by way of representation. By contrast, São Paulo´s Umbanda Sagrada movement proposes a world of the dead that imagines and acts upon itself, including through the articulation of its own modes of representation. This cosmos reveals itself plastically - as aware of itself and its capacity for categorical and thus symbolic shifts sensitive to the vicissitudes of the nation that apprehends them. The spirits here are doubly removed from the "perspectives" of the merely dead, namely, because they appropriate "culture" (nation, history, ideas of its dead) as the raw material with which to fashion their appearances as such. In other words, the Umbanda "dead" are versions of other, often ineffable, perspectives. This new theorization has as one of its consequences the de-coupling of cosmos from nation, as well as a rejection of the idea that Umbanda uncritically reifies a stratifying Brazilian imaginary. Among other things, these Umbandists resist a sociologization of the perspectives of their spirits by posing the ontologically creative, and thus ultimately recursive, nature of their own categories.

panel P16
The 'evidence' of death: necrographic accounts on death perspectives