Accepted paper:

Listening to disembodied voices

Author:

Helene Basu (Westfälische-Wilhelms-Universität)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the role of hearing voices in ritual healing (therapeutic method) and in psychiatry (psychotic symptom).

Paper long abstract:

What is the role of the voice in Indian explanatory models of madness and psychiatric nosology? Anthropological and psychiatric challenges, it is argued, are crystallized in the voice, a medium that signifies the intersection of models of occult madness and schizophrenia. The psychiatry and religious healing practiced at a Sufi shrine in Gujarat differed in terms of the status accorded to the voice: psychiatry interpreted the voice as a symptom of mental disorder, whereas religious healing used the medium in ambiguous practices of possession trance, combining performances of madness and healing. Although 'doing trance' is considered an essential part in the process of healing, patients diagnosed with schizophrenia do not experience trance. Their patiency is displaced onto a caretaker. Psychiatric theories resting on the somatised mind partly converge with theories of madness based on sorcery and possession in so far as both posit a direct link between the brain and behaviour. Against the background of the contested religious healing sites that are currently debated in Indian public mental health, attention to multiple dimensions of the voice reveals its significance as an alternative to the psychiatric institutionalisation of people coping with mental disorder. The voice reconciles the dichotomy between scientific psychiatry and traditional ritual healing, partly by making sense of madness by engaging with the sense of hearing.

panel P101
Collaboration between psychiatry and anthropology: nosological and etiological challenges