EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P102)
Divine mobilities: how gods and spirits move through the world
Location Room 36
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 (University of Gothbnburg) 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

"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.

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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Materials and transnational vectors of "spiritual power".Mediating charismatic authority in a transnational Islamic renewal movement (Mali/ Paris)

Author: Dorothea Schulz (University of Münster) email
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Short abstract

The paper examines the materials and media practices by which followers of the charismatic Muslim preacher Chérif Haidara from Mali make themselves into a transnational religious congregation, and come to view themselves as those united in sharing their leader's special, divinely granted powers.

Long abstract

The paper explores media practices by Malian migrants in Paris whose charismatic leader, the Muslim preacher Sheikh Chérif Haidara relies on audio and audio-visual media technologies to address his followers from his headquarters in Mali's capital Bamako.

The paper examines the various materials and media engagements by which Ansar Dine members make themselves into an increasingly transnational religious congregation, and that shape their self-understandings as those united in sharing their leader's special, divinely granted powers. It asks how materials and objects as diverse as dress items, pens, rosaries, audio-visual recordings (DVDs), and smartphone photographs are employed by followers of Cherif Haidara to contain and channel their leader's spiritual powers across national borders. By proposing a broader conception of "social media" that refers to all kinds of objects that create and sustain social ties among those who follow Haidara, the paper argues that all these materials of mediation are essential to the ways religious charismatic authority becomes operative.

Moved by illness and death. Greek invocations to Brazilian spirits

Author: Angeliki Mitropoulou (Panteion University) email
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Short abstract

At the present announcement I draw data from my research on Greek patients that sought therapeutic solution in Brazilian spiritism in order to explore the need of modern Greek subjects to find all over the world and bring back home gods and spirits able to give health and new meaning to their lives.

Long abstract

Anthropological theory has shown that subjects, as well as spirits, do not move away from home without a reason. In the present proposal I will explore one among the many reasons, but probably the most crucial one, that seems to lead subjects and spirits to move away from the familiar, i.e. serious illness and the concomitant agony of death.

So far, my ethnographic research has shown that illness and death remain today (at least for western subjects) this liminal point, where life imperatively asks for our final answer(s) as far as the meaning of life is concerned. It seems that it is this dire need for ontological answers that makes modern subjects travel-literally or/and metaphorically-in order to find them, before the biological end comes. It seems that it is the same need that makes gods and spirits move through the world in order to give the needed answers to the subjects in need. In that sense, at the present announcement, I intent to use ethnographic material from my recent research concerning modern Greeks that faced serious cases of illness and sought therapeutic solution in the healing practices and religious teachings of Brazilian spiritism, in order to emphasize some of the modern ways by which gods and spirits travel around the world, as well as some of the ways by which western subjectivities end up believing in spiritual entities and teachings that are not of their own sensorial topos.

Science, Nations, Theogony. Towards sacralisation of archaeological object in term of searching a "national idea"

Author: Konstantin Bannikov (Anthropological research center (ARC)) email
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Short abstract

Archaeological discoveries on Ukok Plateau draw a wide response in public of the Altai. The fever around the mummies from kurgans gave birth to neo-mythology, which phenomena reflects general mental processes, fundamental cognitive structures, national politics and international tourism.

Long abstract

The Ukok Plateau is situated at the state border crossing of Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia at the height of about 2500 m above the sea level. Its high-altitude tundra landscape has been used by representatives of nearly all nomadic peoples of Central Asia from ancient times to nowadays as evidenced by fundamental archaeological findings made in the period 1990 -1995. I have been conducting ethnographic and anthropologic research on the Ukok Plateau and in Dzhazator village to which lands the Ukok pastures belong.

Archaeological findings on Ukok especially findings of Scythian, draw a wide response in public of the Republic of Altai, constantly warmed up by mass media distorting and falsifying the facts. In short time the fever around the mummies from Pazyryk culture kurgans gave birth to neo-mythology, which phenomena reflects both general mental processes, characteristic for present Altai, and fundamental cognitive structures, which lay in the basis of religious ideology, being retransmitted by state TV-channels. In this I see one of the factors of development of phenomenon of archetypical provocation in public conscience, which received in Russian anthropology the name of "archaic syndrome". How archaeologic artifacts correspondence with new Theogony in term of national ideology of contemporary Altai Republic, and how it creates modern trends for international "spiritual" tourism it is examined in my actual research.

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.

The moving magic of Sintra: where deities dwell, from pre-history to contemporary neo-shamanism

Author: Clara Saraiva (FLUL-University of Lisbon) email
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Short abstract

The Sintra Park, close to Lisbon, is renowned for its mystic aura, being reclaimed by Neopagans, New Agers and followers of the Afro-Brazilian religions as a sacred place. We will look at the ways these different divinities travel through time and space, gathering in Sintra on full-moon nights.

Long abstract

The Sintra Park, in the surroundings of Lisbon, is a well known UNESCO World Heritage site, and a natural park, famous for its mountainous landscape, its natural beauty and the Roca Cape, the westmost point of Europe. Sintra is also renowned for its mystic aura, and is increasingly being used and reclaimed by Neopagans, New Agers and by followers of the Afro-Brazilian religions as a sacred place. In this Finisterra landscape, stories of the existence of numerous deities abound, who travel across time and space. There are pre-historic divinities coming from northern and eastern Europe, once worshiped in dolmens and sacred rocks; but also afro-Brazilian divinities, which started travelling across the Atlantic from Brazil only a few decades ago, that are nowadays worshipped in the numerous lakes and lagoons spread throughout the park. In the full moonlight nights, drums are beaten, flowers and fruits candles are left by the water streams, candles are lit, in order to call upon such (old and new) deities. Using ethnographic data we will analyze how different religious groups conceptualize in various ways how such divine entities travel through time and space and come to meet them in their nightly walks through the park or in their rituals.

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.

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.

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.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.