EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P102)
Divine mobilities: how gods and spirits move through the world
Location Horsal 9 (D9)
Date and Start Time 15 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Stephan Palmie (University of Chicago) email
  • Roger Canals (University of Barcelona) email
  • Ruy Blanes ((CSIC) / (INCIPIT)) email

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Short abstract

This panel seeks a debate on mobility in religious/spiritual contexts beyond the usual tropes of "diaspora" or "de/reterritorialization". Calling for papers based on current ethnographies in the anthropology of religion, we aim to explore new approaches to religious mediation and transmission.

Long abstract

Ever since the time of Imperial Roman complaints about invasive cults from Asia Minor (such as Christianity) making their home in the metropole as a result of population movements, the notion that deities follow their worshipers has been an established trope in aiming to understand what we, today, are wont to call the religious concomitants of globalization. It is a view of the movement of numinous entities based on what we might call a paradigm of endemic range (in the zoological sense), and the effects of "invasive" collective representations on prior human-divine ecologies. Tired of concepts such as diaspora or de/reterritorialization, this panel aims to rethink how deities, spirits, and other entities move through, and transform in, space and time. It does so by focusing on how their devotees not only think such movements occur, but how they actively bring these into being. We ask how people imagine numinous entities to move in time/space/http, what storage media they use, how they are activated, and what may stand in the way of doing so. Drums, relics, possessed bodies, amulets, books, prayer, images, audio or video recordings, apps and social media - and other techniques and media platforms to work the gods into presence in new surroundings - are all par for the course: as "low" or "high tech" as the case may be. We invite ethnographically grounded analyses of divine mobilties, but also historical case studies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A taxonomic model for religions and cults in mobility

Author: Georgios Gaitanos (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) email
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Short abstract

This paper is about the proposition of a taxonomic model for religions and cults in mobility that is based on an analogous taxonomic model for the religions and cults that "invaded" the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity. This is a model that I proposed and used for my published post-doc research.

Long abstract

The taxonomy and the distinction of the cults during the Late Antiquity were based on the characteristics of Gods, the theological teachings, the rituals or the ethnic tradition. The first goal of this paper is to present a different taxonomy for depicting the religious development of Roman Empire. I' m going to categorize the cults of this era according to: a) the expansion of the religious community, b) the methods of promotion and establishment in several areas of the Roman Empire, and c) how a cult or a religious tradition is depended on a topos (place); especially, the topic/utopic depiction of the world (ecumene) can give us a lot of answers about the formation and mobility of these new cults. Those theoretical characteristics can help us form a new taxonomy for the cults of this particular era based not only on the factor of mobility but also on how people adapt and act after they have settled down on a new place. The second goal is to show how this model of taxonomy can be used nowadays for the religious mobility in an analogous way. It is important to show that we can create a new taxonomy for religion that it is not necessary depended on theological argument but on social and cultural effect.

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When gods cease migrating: the movements of gods, objects and people in Western Himalaya

Author: Asaf Sharabi (Peres Academic Center) email
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Short abstract

Gods, people, and objects move freely as a matter of routine in Western Himalaya. The last decade has witnessed changes in the migration of some gods. These changes can to some extent be explained by observing the migration of people.

Long abstract

The ability to migrate through space is a cardinal tenet of religious belief in Western Himalaya. Gods, people, and objects move freely as a matter of routine. Thus we find gods who move between villages in their territory; people who accompany them and make pilgrimages to temples to plead before the gods and goddesses; and holy objects that are transferred from place to place. This ritual-movement mosaic acts to preserve the religious-social ferment, weaving social life into a dynamic web of holy sites and objects. The last decade has witnessed changes in the migration of some gods. These changes can to some extent be explained by observing the migration of people. As more people migrate, the gods are beginning to settle in place. The implications of this trend are diverse: they include a more independent and tourist-oriented religious experience that is more connected to the pan-Hindu religious experience.

Spirit Writing in Vietnam. Political Messages from the Beyond

Author: Gertrud Huewelmeier (Humboldt Universtiy Berlin) email
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Short abstract

This paper seeks to explore the transmission of otherworldly messages through spirit possession and "écriture automatique". Moreover, it looks at the interpretation of encrypted notifications and the implementation of the spirits' instructions in Vietnams' military border zones.

Long abstract

"Écriture automatique" is a "new" mode of spirit mediumship in late Socialist Vietnam. By analyzing oral and written otherworldly messages, sent by political heroes from the past, and transmitted via an urban female spirit medium, this paper seeks to explore how the interpreter and the devotees actively transform the celestial notifications into political action. In the process of making otherworldly beings and powers appear, trance mediums need equipment, which, in the case discussed here, includes technical media. Based on the understanding of spirit writing and orally transmitted communication practices as emerging popular religious practices in late Socialist Vietnam, the paper investigates the process of spirit writing, and various layers of translation, decoding and implementation of the spirits' instructions. Messages include moral advice towards authorities as well as directives about the establishment of spiritual landmarks in order to safeguard Vietnam's border zones. In the case discussed here, the spirit of Hồ Chí Minh intervenes and exercises power over the contemporary communist regime. By travelling from the political center Hanoi to the countries' border zones, devotees and authorities alike performed spatial and ritual practices, transforming restricted military areas at the outposts of the country into spiritual landscapes. The spirit's message refers to an emerging nationalism and indicates contemporary border tensions, triggered by the Paracel Islands and Spratly Island dispute in the South China Sea.

Transnational Ways of Knowing the Spirits: Mediumship in the Vale do Amanhecer

Author: Emily Pierini (University of Wales Trinity Saint David) email
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Short abstract

Considering the current spread of temples of the Brazilian Vale do Amanhecer, this paper compares the experiences of mediums learning to manifest spirits in temples in Brazil and Italy, to explore the development of ways of knowing spirits and thus of a mediumistic body at a transnational level.

Long abstract

Religious travel and mobility have contributed to the current spread of temples of the Brazilian Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) in Europe. Members of this Spiritualist Christian Order practise spirit mediumship for the spiritual healing of patients visiting the temple, consisting in the release of spirts remained trapped between the planes after death troubling humans in their physical, affective and material matters.

The Vale do Amanhecer considers mediumship to be produced by human bodies and, as such, it may be potentially developed by anyone; and both mediums and their spirits are actively engaged in the process of learning mediumship.

As this spiritual practice spreads transnationally, how are spirit guides considered to be involved in the mobility of mediums travelling to open temples and prepare local mediums and spirits? How do new mediums in development learn to manifest spirit guides from another culture according to specific modalities? How do the ways they learn to relate to each other inform the construction of a mediumistic body at a transnational level? This paper compares the experiences of mediums in temples in Brazil and Italy, exploring the cognitive, bodily and affective aspects as intertwined in the development of specific ways of knowing spirits in contexts of transnational mobility.

"Even Oxalá goes to war!": African Deities Enter Politics in Salvador, Brazil

Author: Elina Hartikainen (University of Helsinki) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores how political activism aimed at state recognition mediated the working into presence of Candomblé's African deities in Salvador, Brazil in early 2000s. I ask how the deities were rendered co-present in the political realm and with what effect on secular politics and the deities.

Long abstract

In the 2000s, activists from the African diasporic spirit possession religion Candomblé successfully mobilized large numbers of practitioners into a religious political movement in Salvador, Brazil. While the movement originally emerged out of a concern over combatting Evangelical Christian intolerance against the religion, by 2008 many activists viewed it as a means to carving out a space for the religion and its practitioners in Brazilian political discussions. In addition to practitioners, the movement found a receptive audience in state representatives and institutions invested in expanding Afro-Brazilian social and political inclusion. This paper explores the ways in which Candomblé's co-present African deities were brought into this religious political project by activists. More specifically, I ask 1) to what extent and in what ways did Candomblé activists render the deities co-present in their political efforts, 2) how did these efforts push at or transcend secular notions of politics, and 3) how were the deities transformed by these encounters with the political realm? Through such an analysis, the paper explores the mediatory effects of political activism that aims at state recognition on the working into presence of Candomblé's African deities.

The second diaspora of race: Afro-Cuban religiosity beyond some historical facts.

Author: Anastasios Panagiotopoulos (CRIA-Universidade Nova de Lisboa) email
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Short abstract

Communication with spirits perceived as "Africans" or "blacks" occurs in Afro-Cuban religious practice so as to effect a second diaspora to the very categories of "ethnicity" and "race", especially in their historically constructed racist dimensions.

Long abstract

Intense and intimate communication with spirits perceived as "Africans" or "blacks" occurs in Afro-Cuban religious practice so as to effect a second kind of diaspora (in the Greek sense of dispersal) to the very categories of "ethnicity" and "race", especially in their historically constructed racist dimensions. Engaging with Frantz Fanon's notion of "blackening", as a kind of negative ontology, the ethnography of communication with "African" and "black" spirits shows how race has historically been a vital ingredient to an experience imbued with racism. Instead of spirits being the focus of mediation (between a sacred and a profane world), and in this case, between the past and present of race and racism, the reverse is at stake. Race becomes the mediator for the spirits' and humans' biographical mobility and oracular articulation, out of a previous static and inarticulate condition; race being an important factor for such stasis. More theoretically speaking, the paper offers a critical reading to rigid distinctions between "ontology" and "representation" and shows how one may transfrom into another.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.