Accepted paper:

SACRIFICING VISIBILITY - An ethnographic film-project about Islamic exorcisms and psychiatric healthcare in Denmark


Christian Suhr (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

This ethnographic film-project explores how violent sacrificial acts of visibility are used in Islamic exorcisms and psychiatric healthcare to achieve and foreclose access to the invisible.

Paper long abstract:

What in a human needs to be removed, pushed aside, or transgressed in order to be healed? In Danish psychiatric healthcare it seems to be delusions and unstable emotions that prohibit the mind-brain "ego" from acting rationally and controlling its body. In neo-orthodox Islamic exorcisms among Danish Muslims it is rather the evil jinn, the limited scope of brain-intelligence, and the desires of the lower self that need to be overpowered so as to enable the "heart" to receive and submit to the divine message. Despite their differences both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic practices of exorcism seem to share the view that in order for healing to occur and for the "the good life" to be resumed, a violent sacrificial act is required. The challenge for both psychiatrists and Muslim exorcists is that the suffering of a soul is essentially invisible. The healer must therefore take on the role of seers, knowers, and masters of the invisible powers inflicting the pain in the patient. All filmmaking must in similar ways move between multiple sacrifices of visibility and invisibility. Cinematic sacrifices as well as sacrifices for healing are powerful, yet also dangerous practices that may easily become object of such serious charges as idolatry, iconoclasm, or quackery. This presentation explores the oscillation between making visible and making invisible in psychiatric and Islamic approaches to healing as well as in ethnographic filmmaking.

panel V07
Representing the non-representable: visual representations of extraordinary beings in ethnographic films