Accepted Paper:

Kinship, religion, and social media: the case of the cult of María Lionza in Venezuela and beyond  

Author:

Roger Canals (University of Barcelona)

Paper Short Abstract:

The cult of María Lionza from Venezuela is a widespread ritual practice in which spirit possession is frequent. In this cult, kinship and religious ties are closely interwoven. The massive presence of the cult on the Internet is reshaping links between believers, ancestors and supernatural beings.

Paper long abstract:

The cult of María Lionza (Venezuela) is an example of the so-called “Afro-American religions”. In this cult, there is a strong connection between religious ideas and notions of kinship. Family appears as an extension of the hereafter and the hereafter is also seen as an extension of the family. When a relative dies, for instance, he or she forms part of the pantheon of gods. A believer may even marry, make love to or "inherit" something from a spiritual entity. Many rituals deal specifically with the redefinition of kinship relationships.

The cult of María Lionza has a massive presence on the Internet, particularly on social networks such as Facebook. These social media platforms are frequently used by believers living abroad. The cult has adapted to the Internet very rapidly and has created specifically digital practices and discourses (such as online rituals and digital identities). Many of these online practices are related to kinship and friendship. One can, for example, become “friends” with an ancestor on Facebook, perform a “spiritual wedding” online or build a digital religious altar in which images of spirits, relatives and ancestors are connected. Digital images may also be used as religious icons.

What are the effects of these transformations on the kinship and friendship relationships off-line? How is social media changing the way in which believers conceive and perform their religion?

This paper is the outcome of a long-term research project on the cult of María Lionza in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Barcelona. (See www.marialionza.net for a recent project funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation).

Panel P059
Kinship: taking stock in the light of social media