Accepted paper:

The end of "possession"?


William Sax (South Asia Institute, Heidlberg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines what happens when people begin to reject the practices associated with “possession” in Garhwal in the Western Himalayas. Who rejects such practices, and why? I argue that this is not only a matter of “belief”, but also of social positioning, status claims, and bodily hexis.

Paper long abstract:

Practices related to "possession" (by gods and goddesses, local spirits, and ghosts) are very common in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand in the Western Himalayas of North India. However, certain persons are unwilling or unable to engage in them. These include city-dwellers who are no longer familiar with such practices; local persons who are familiar with them, but consider themselves to be too "modern" and "educated" to engage in them; and those who reject them for religious reasons. In this paper, I provide examples from all three categories, focusing on one instance where I was present to witness the moment of rejection. I argue that the notion of "belief" does not take us far in understanding why people reject such practices, nor does it help us much to understand the consequences of this rejection. We must also realize that this rejection has to do with social positioning and status claims in relation to "development," and how such claims are in turn connected to what Bourdieu called bodily "hexis."

panel W112
What happens when we stop believing in/believing that?