Accepted paper:

Saintly visions in Malta: ontology, alterity and contestation


Jon Mitchell (Sussex University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at debate surrounding visions of the Virgin Mary in contemporary Malta. It argues that attention to these debates might afford us multiple 'ways in' to understanding such 'extraordinary' religious phenomena, in contrast to the singularity of approaches that focus on ontology and alterity.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines contemporary Catholic visionaries, and particularly the visions associated with the Maltese Angelik Caruana, who since 2006 has been having visions of, and receiving messages from, the Blessed Virgin Mary during prayer meetings at the Neolithic hill site of Borg-in-Nadur, in Malta. The visions are highly routinized - taking place according to a regular weekly cycle - and draw pilgrims from across Malta and abroad, who gather to bear witness to the episodes, and bear testimony to their own experiences of Our Lady's presence.

The paper takes as its departure the 'ontological turn' within anthropology, which effectively argues that 'invisible' phenomena such as visions are 'really there' in the worlds of those who experience them. The job of ethnographers - or ontographers - in this account is to think ourselves into a position from which we can see/acknowledge this. It is a methodological step forwards from the old debate between rationalists and relativists, but rather hangs on a notion of absolute alterity that although relevant when discussing Amazonian, Cuban or Mongolian ethnography, might be less so in the Christian European context of Malta.

The paper argues that attention to the points of debate, scepticism, disagreement about phenomena such as Angelik's visions, rather than singularly account for - or 'infine', as the ontological turn has it - them, provides a variety of 'ways in' to understanding such extraordinary religious events.

panel P077
Ethnography of the invisible