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Accepted Paper:

Aesthetics of Mediumship in Brazilian Spiritist Healthcare  


Helmar Kurz (University MuensterGermany)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses sensory aspects of mediumship in Brazilian Spiritist healing settings and explores the involvement of the ethnographer. It reflects how far sensory perception does not only serve as a focus of anthropological investigation but also as an insightful ethnographic technique.

Paper long abstract:

Brazilian Spiritist healthcare models serve as an example of how sensory perception shapes the interaction, experience, and interpretation of therapeutic practices. Ethnographers study the interconnection, functionality, and efficacy of spirit possession, mediumship, and (self-)care by exploring their performative, embodied, and sensual qualities. Many argue for a socio-cultural-psychological model and impose their cognitive interpretations of observed experiences and narratives on their research objects. Few try to explore the individual affective entanglements of their interlocutors with related practices, and hardly anybody dares to reflect on their own sensory perception throughout observing participation in terms of relevant data production and reflection. Applying to Sensory Anthropology as an approach that covers both, this paper surpasses the anthropological interpretation of Spiritist healing practices as bodily-sensory "technologies of the self" by discussing the ethnographer's involvement with these therapeutic interventions. It only touches the perspective on patient-healer relationships as socially structured, symbolical, and performative, and different layers of sensory experience and interaction. Instead, it will focus on the analysis of the ethnographer's perception and interaction in this space of healing. It describes some ethnographer's sensory experiences and his gradual transformation from a participant-observer towards an observing participant in mediumship-related practices of care. A major question to be discussed will be how far ethnographers are able to participate without becoming involved and how they are able to use their sensory experiences as data and therefore as a source of knowledge. It implements a discussion on how to fill the gaps between interpretation, empathy, and "going native".

Panel P115a
Other Worlds, Other Bodies?: Ethnography, Experience and Epistemological Embodiment