Accepted paper:

An "enlightened" threshold to the afterlife and this life: spiritism and the dead in a Puerto Rican neoliberal context


Raquel Romberg (Tel Aviv University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores ethnographically and theoretically the visceral and affective modes in which the dead and enlightened spirits interact with mortals in Puerto Rican popular Spiritism divination, healing, and possession rituals in the context of neoliberal ideologies of self-improvement.

Paper long abstract:

Rather than an inevitable and final end, death has been conceived in some societies at various periods of human history as a passage or threshold to another, often higher, realm of existence. This passage has been imagined in many cases as the transformation of spirited matter into dematerialized spirit that may manifest itself again in the material world. Scientific Spiritism is one such theory, established in the nineteenth century among French progressive elites in the context of scientific and social positivism and evolutionism. Imported to Puerto Rico and other Spanish colonies, it became enmeshed not only with other religious practices originating in Africa but also with new postcolonial existential dilemmas. In this paper, I propose to explore how the basic tenets informing the hierarchical world of the dead and the spirits of light and their relations to mortals have been reshaped and given new meanings in the everyday practices of Puerto Rican popular Spiritism. Ethnographic evidence—textual and photographic—will identify the various modes in which the dead and spirits manifest themselves in contemporary divination, healing, and possession rituals and account for the affective and visceral presence of the dead sometimes in convivial, sometimes in exploitative interaction with mortals. Further theorizing will engage the implications of enlightened necrographic theories and practices in contemporary Puerto Rican popular Spiritism, especially with regard to the vitality of previous Enlightened Spiritist philosophies in late modernity within the context of neoliberal self-fashioning ideologies of material and spiritual self-improvement.

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