2016 Winter Syllabus (Reconsidering “Spirit Possession”)

ANT485HI: Topics in Emerging Scholarship SCL
Reconsidering “Spirit Possession”
Winter 2016
Seminar Meetings:
Thursdays 12:00-2:00
Office Hours:
Thursdays 2:30-3:30
(or by appointment)
Seth Palmer, PhD Candidate
Email: [email protected]
Course Description:
In this emerging scholarship course, students will be challenged to (re)consider the ways in which the
category of “spirit possession” – a topic seminal to socio-cultural anthropology – has been produced
and imagined by several generations of ethnographers. Boddy “revisited” possession studies in her
review article in 1994; this course asks students to continue that pursuit over two decades later. The
seminar will briefly introduce students to how various theoretical paradigms, including structuralfunctionalist, psychoanalytic, feminist, materialist, and post-colonial, have engaged with phenomena
grouped under the category of “spirit possession.” In so doing, students will be introduced to some of
the classic ethnographic texts in the sub-discipline; however, much of the course material is composed
of current scholarship. Centrally, students will explore how emerging research on possession
interrogates and reconsiders, among other themes: colonial possessions and modern labour regimes, the
gendered/sexed medium, historicity and temporality, conflicting politico-religious ideologies, mass
mediation, possession in the West, and, returning full-circle, the ways in which the very category of
“spirit possession” was and continues to be produced.
Course Objectives:
 Students will gain an understanding of the role that the study of spirit possession has played
within the larger discipline of socio-cultural anthropology and how theoretical trends within
socio-cultural anthropology have influenced the study of spirit possession.
 Students will be exposed to the literature on religious practices placed within the
anthropological category of “spirit possession” in multiple world regions. Students will gain a
contextual understanding of these practices and their location in a broader, global frame of
reference, thus touching upon other thematic concerns, including globalization and
transnationalism, capitalism and consumption, colonial histories and post-colonial realities.
 Students will explore the theoretical perspectives and methodological practices utilized by
ethnographers engaged in the study of spirit possession, and the genealogical trajectories of this
 Students will fine-tune their ability to interpret ethnographic literature through multiple
theoretical lenses, thereby developing the art of an ethnographic academic critique.
 Students will acquire the intellectual tools necessary to produce both a literature review/paper
proposal and a rigorous, academic paper, including library research skills and the use of AAA
citation style, among others.
 Students will practice the art of effectively communicating their ideas orally in a critical,
constructive, creative, and cordial manner amongst colleagues in a seminar setting. They will
also fine-tune their writing skills and master the ability to produce an academic argument in
weekly reading responses.
The following course texts are required and will be available at the U of T bookstore:
de Certeau, Michel.
The Possession at Loudun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, Paul Christopher, ed.
Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
We will be reading selected chapters from other ethnographies and edited volumes. Students are
encouraged, if interested, to purchase those books from online retailers. Copies of Obeyesekere’s
Medusa’s Hair are also available at the U of T Bookstore.
All films, unless otherwise specified are to be watched outside of class.
Methods of Evaluation:
Class Participation =
Weekly Reading Responses =
Class Presentation =
Final Exam =
Final Paper =
Final Paper Proposal =
Class Participation:
Class participation will be evaluated based on students’ class attendance and active engagement during
seminars and is worth 15% of the final mark. Students’ active engagement during seminars should
reflect their close reading of required texts and subsequent analyses of said texts. Students may choose
to go beyond the required readings and explore the recommended readings as well; their engagement
with recommended readings will be taken into consideration when the instructor determines their
participation grade. If student(s) should have difficulties expressing themselves orally in class, it should
be brought to the instructor’s attention within the first two weeks of the course.
Class Presentation:
Each student is required to give one class presentation during the semester. Students will select a week
from which they will give a brief (15 minute maximum) presentation introducing the readings. They
may provide contextual background information on the readings, but most importantly they will
provide critical commentary, provocative questions, and insightful concerns that will later act as
valuable platforms from which to open the floor to class discussion. The short presentations should not
simply summarize the required texts (see weekly reading responses) and, unlike the weekly reading
responses, will require some outside library research. The week that students give a presentation they
are not required and, indeed they cannot choose, to submit a weekly reading response.
Weekly Reading Responses:
Students will be required to submit weekly reading responses that reflect close readings of the required
texts. The responses will be handed-in electronically 24 hours before class. Students are required to
submit 9 responses (out of the total 13 weeks); the highest 9 responses will be recorded, contributing to
25% of the final mark. Students will not receive extra credit for submitting extra reading responses.
Late responses will not be considered.
Weekly reading responses will not exceed two pages and will be organized around one or several
central arguments, compelling insights, or a critical perspectives on that week’s required texts. These
responses should be clearly written and engaging. The instructor may draw from students’ responses in
class to facilitate discussion (hence why they must be submitted 24 hours in advance).
Final Exam:
The final exam will test students’ knowledge of the course material, including the instructor’s
comments, group discussions, class presentations and required texts read over the semester; it is worth
15% of the final mark. It will be composed of multiple choice, short answer and essay-format
questions. Time will be set-aside at the end of the final course meeting to discuss the exam.
Final Paper and Proposal:
Students are asked to prepare a final paper that deals, very broadly, with the topic of “spirit
possession.” Students will be asked to prepare a literature review/paper proposal, to be handed in inclass on March 24th. The purpose of the paper proposal is for the student to have prepared a clear,
concise thesis statement and to have compiled a bibliography from which the paper will be constructed.
The paper proposal should not exceed 2 pages and include at least 8 references. The paper proposal is
worth 5% of the final grade. The instructor will provide written feedback on the proposals and will be
available to provide individual consultations with each student.
The paper will be worth 25% of the final grade. The paper should contain a clear, concise thesis
statement and deal in-depth with a specific topic related, broadly, to “spirit possession.” The paper
should be no longer than 12 pages, and contain a bibliography that contains at least 10 scholarly
sources. Students are encouraged, but not necessarily required, to engage with required course
readings. The due date will be determined before the fourth week of the course.
Accessibility Services:
Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a
disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me
and/or Accessibility Services at (416) 978 8060; accessibility.utoronto.ca. The instructor will work
with Accomodation Services to be sure that the student is provided with the assistance that they
Blackboard and E-communication:
Blackboard will be used as a forum for communication throughout the course. The instructor will
communicate with students through Blackboard in addition to UTOR email. Students should inform
the instructor by the first week of classes if they are not able to access Blackboard or if they are
experiencing other technological problems that are preventing them from contacting the instructor.
Students can expect the instructor to respond to email messages within 48 hours.
Academic Integrity and Turn-it in:
All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following procedures outlined in the
Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. If students have questions or concerns about what constitutes
appropriate academic behaviour or appropriate research and citation methods, they are expected to seek
out additional information on academic integrity from their instructors or from other institutional
Turn-it-in will be used to judge the originality of students’ final papers. Should any student request to
not have the originality of their work judged through the Turn-it-in, they must contact the instructor
within the first three weeks of the course and a substitute assessment tool will be discussed.
Document Formatting:
All assignments for the course will be double-spaced and typed in 12 point, Times font, with standard
Late penalty:
The instructor will not accept late weekly reading responses or class presentations. Late final papers
and paper proposals will be deducted 5% per day. Medical excuses, accompanied with appropriate
documentation, will be considered.
Missed Exam Policy:
Missed final exams can only be made-up if the student provides appropriate medical documentation
and informs the instructor of their medical issue within 24 hours (exceptions may be given in extreme
circumstances). The instructor will provide the student with a replacement exam.
Re-marking Policy:
Students should review the Academic Handbook if they seek for an assignment to be re-marked. A
one-page document must be provided to the instructor explaining why the student believes that their
work was unfairly marked in order for it to be considered for re-marking.
Week 1: Encountering Possession (Jan 14th)
Marie Meudec, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dept. of Anthropology at U of T, joins us in conversation.
What do we mean by “spirit possession”? How do we know it when we see it? How has possession
entered both popular culture in the North American context and the ethnographic imaginary? For this
first week, students will be asked to engage with several classic representations of Haitian Vodou, both
popular and anthropological, as a way for them to begin to understand how possession has penetrated
both popular and anthropological worlds.
Deren, Maya.
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. 52 minutes.
Film clips shown in class:
Trailers for Voodoo Woman (1957), Voodoo Island (1957) and Voodoo Dawn (1989), along with clip
on Pat Robertson’s comments on the earthquake that hit Haiti and a reaction by a Haitian-American.
[Chapter 13: Zombies]
Hurston, Zora Neale.
1990[1938] Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Jamaica and Haiti. New York: Perennial Library.
[Part 2, Chapter 2, Pgs. 191-202]
Hurston, Zora Neale.
1990[1938]Mules and Men. New York: Harper Collins.
Dunham, Katherine.
Island Possessed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Meehan, Kevin.
Decolonizing Ethnography: Spirit Possession and Resistance in Tell My Horse. Obsidian
9(1): 59-73.
Week 2: Structural-Functionalist Approaches, Objective Proof, and Their Critics (Jan 21st)
European explorers, missionaries, and early ethnographers have long witnessed and described various
forms of what have come to be termed “spirit possession”. By the mid-20th Century, Lewis (1966)
proposed a now famous explanation for why possession exists cross-culturally, and why women tend to
be possessed cross-culturally. This week we will examine Lewis’ argument, and other structuralfunctionalist, objectivist, and etiological arguments, while also attending to their critics.
Boddy, Janice.
Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality. Annual Review of Anthropology
23(1): 407-434.
Lewis, Ian.
Spirit Possession and Deprivation Cults. Man 1(3): 307-329.
McIntosh, Janet.
Reluctant Muslims: Embodied Hegemony and Moral Resistance in a Giriama Spirit
Possession Complex. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 10(1): 91-112.
Turner, Edith.
The Reality of Spirits. Anthropology of Consciousness 4(1): 9-12.
Recommended Readings:
Gomm, Roger.
Bargaining from Weakness: Spirit Possession on the South Kenya Coast. Man 10: 530543.
Kehoe, Alice B. and Dody H. Giletti.
Women’s Preponderance in Possession Cults: The Calcium-Deficiency Hypothesis
Extended. American Anthropologist 549-561.
Week 3: Reconsidering the Category of “Spirit Possession” (Jan 28th)
This syllabus was inspired by the recent work undertaken by Johnson (2014), his colleagues, and
critics, all of whom have been discussing possession’s place within European imperial history. How
may this perspective shift the lens unto which anthropologists examine various practices labeled as
“spirit possession”? Contrarily, is something lost in attending solely to the genealogy of the field (and,
perhaps, overemphasizing the focus on the term “possession”) as opposed to focusing on its
contemporary manifestations in the fields where such religious phenomena exist? Students will revisit
these arguments throughout the course.
Johnson, Paul Christopher.
Toward an Atlantic Genealogy of “Spirit Possession.” In Spirited Things: The Work of
“Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 23-46.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, Paul Christopher
Spirits and Things in the Making of the Afro-Atlantic World. In Spirited Things: The
Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 1-20.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lambek, Michael.
Afterword: Recognizing and Misrecognizing Spirit Possession. In Spirited Things: The
Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 257276. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Selections from:
MacPherson, C. B.
The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. London: Oxford
University Press.
Recommended Readings:
Locke, John.
[1680]2003 Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration. Ian Shapiro, ed. New
Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques.
[1755]1992 Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Donald A. Cress, trans. Indianapolis: Hackett
Week 4: Psychological Anthropology and Psychoanalytic Approaches (Feb 4th)
Spirit possession has been particularly attractive to anthropologists because of its openness to various
theoretical approaches and thematic foci. If possession often inhabits texts in the anthropology of
religion, it is equally attended to by specialists in medical anthropology and psychological
anthropology. This week we specifically focus on how psychological anthropology, and more
particularly psychoanalytic anthropology, has been applied to a Sri Lankan case of possession, first by
Obeyesekere and more recently by Champin.
Champin, Bambi.
2008 Transforming Possession: Josephine and the Work of Culture. Ethos 36(2): 220-245.
[Introduction and Parts 1 and 3]
Obeyesekere, Gananath.
1981 Medusa’s Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Recommended Readings:
Crapanzano, Vincent.
1980 Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
*Lambek, Michael.
2004 Rheumetic Irony: Questions of Agency and Self-Deception as Refracted through the Art of
Living with Spirits. In Illness and Irony: On the Ambiguity of Suffering in Culture. Michael
Lambek and Paul Antze, Eds. Pp. 40-59. New York: Berghahn Books.
*also available in Social Analysis 47(2): 40-59
Week 5: Power, History, Mimesis, and the Colonized Medium (Feb 11th)
Beginning with the growth of subaltern studies and post-colonial studies in the 1970-80’s,
ethnographers were compelled to explain how possession was dealt with by colonizing forces, and
more often, what possession did, semantically and otherwise, for the colonized. This week’s readings
challenge students to consider the historical contexts in which various possessions exist (both
materialist, imperial possessions and divine possessions) and what these symbolic systems come to
represent for both the colonizer and the colonized.
Rouch, Jean.
1955 Les Maîtres Fous. 36 minutes. Les Films de la Pléiade.
Lambek, Michael
1998 Sakalava Poiesis of History: Realizing the Past through Spirit Possession in Madagascar.
American Ethnologist 25(2): 106-127.
Stoller, Paul.
1994 Embodying Colonial Memories. American Anthropologist 96 (3): 634-648.
[Chapter 16: Reflection]
Taussig, Michael.
1992 Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. Pp. 236-249. New York: Routledge.
Recommended Readings:
Goslinga, Gillian.
Spirited Encounters: Notes on the Politics and Poetics of Representing the Uncanny in
Anthropology. Anthropological Theory 12(4): 386-406.
Week 6: Reading Week Feb. 16th to 19th (no class Feb 18th)
Richman, Karen.
Possession and Attachment: Notes on Moral Ritual Communication among Haitian Descent
Groups. In Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul
Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 207-224. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Week 7: Revisiting the Possessed, Gendered Subaltern, Part I (Feb 25th)
The readings for this week return to Lewis’ original argument (since somewhat revised) regarding
gender and spirit possession. We will read the work of several female ethnographers, who alternatively
challenge, complicate, echo, and rearticulate Lewis’ original argument regarding what it means to think
about spirit possession as a gendered and sexed phenomenon.
Boddy, Janice.
Spirits and Selves in Northern Sudan: The Cultural Therapeutics of Possession and Trance.
American Ethnologist 15(1): 4-27.
Bourguignon, Erika.
Suffering and Healing, Subordination and Power: Women and Possession Trance. Ethos
32(4): 557-574.
Hayes, Kelly E.
Wicked Women and Femmes Fatales: Gender, Power, and Pomba Gira in Brazil. History
of Religions 48(1): 1-21.
Ram, Kalpana.
How is Afflictive Possession “Learned”? Gender and Motility in South Asia. Ethnos 77(2):
Recommended Readings:
Giles, Linda.
Possession Cults on the Swahili Coast: A Re-Examination of Theories of Marginality.
Africa 57(2): 234-258.
Keller, Mary.
The Hammer and the Flute: Women, Power and Spirit Possession. Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press.
Week 8: Revisiting the Possessed, Gendered Subaltern, Part II (March 3rd)
Students will continue analyzing the gendered elements of possession this week, more specifically by
engaging with queer subjectivity and performance theory (via Butler). By analyzing themes such as the
self, gender performativity, alterity, and stigma, we will consider: what does it mean to think of queer
subjectivity through idiomatic – and literal – divine possessions and what does it mean to think of spirit
possession through queer theory?
Lescot, Anne and Laurence Magloire.
Des Hommes et Des Dieux (Of Men and Gods). 52 minutes.
[Chapter 3: Winti, an Afro-Surinamese Religion and the Multiplicitous Self]
Wekker, Gloria.
The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. New
York: Columbia University Press.
[Chapter 8: Social Theory]
Ram, Kalpana.
Fertile Disorder: Spirit Possession and Its Provocation of the Modern. Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press.
[Chapter: Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions]
Butler, Judith.
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 1st Edition. Routledge Classics.
Recommended Readings:
Allen, Andrea Stevenson.
“Brides” Without Husbands: Lesbians in the Afro-Brazilian Religion Candomblé.
Transforming Anthropology 20(1): 17-31.
Ho, Tamara C.
Transgender, Transgression and Translation: A Cartography of “Nat Kadaws”: Notes on
Gender and Sexuality within the Spirit Cult of Burma. Discourse 31(3): 273-317.
Merrison, Lindsey.
Friends in High Places. 88 min. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.
van de Port, Mattijs.
Candomblé in Pink, Green, and Black. Re-scripting the Afro-Brazilian Religious Heritage
in the Public Sphere of Salvador, Bahia. Social Anthropology 13(1): 3-26.
**Note that Prof. Kristina Wirtz will be giving a lecture in the Anthropology Department
building on March 4th. She is a scholar of Santeria, and she has a chapter in The Work of
Week 9: Possession and Capitalist Modernity (March 10th)
If possession was at times representative of the pre-modern or non-Western Other, and thus
representative of an authentic “tradition,” contemporary research on spirit possession has illuminated
how “modernity” emerges in and through mediums and their possessing spirits. As such, we will
discuss how possession combines with capitalist modernity, including the individual and societal
consumption of material possessions and their accompanying global labour patterns.
Ong, Aihwa.
The Production of Possession: Spirits and the Multinational Corporation in Malaysia.
American Ethnologist 15(1): 28-42.
[Chapter 5]
Kendall, Laurel.
Shamans, Nostalgias and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press.
[Chapter 6: The Ritual Economy of Bori in the Market]
Masquelier, Adeline.
2001 Prayer has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger.
Durham: Duke University Press.
Selka, Stephan.
Demons and Money: Possessions in Brazilian Pentecostalism. In Spirited Things: The
Work of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 155176. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
***Please note: March 13th is deadline to drop S-section code courses.***
Week 10: Possession and Media (March 17th)
One of the most exciting areas of emerging literature in spirit possession studies is that which examines
the intersection between mediation (visual, aural and otherwise) and possession. Here, as a class, we
will consider what it means to mediate possession, what consequences such mediation has on ritual,
practice, and possession ideologies.
**Paper Proposal Due in Class**
Behrend, Heike and Martin Zillinger.
2015 Introduction: Trace Mediums and New Media. In Trance Mediums and New Media: Spirit
Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction. Pp. 1-25. Fordham University Press.
Morris, Rosalind.
Modernism’s Media and the End of Mediumship? On the Aesthetic Economy of
Transparency in Thailand. Public Culture 12(2): 457-475.
Palmié, Stephan.
The Ejamba of North Fairmount Avenue, the Wizard of Menlo Park, and the Dialectics of
Ensoniment: An Episode in the History of an Acoustic Mask. In Spirited Things: The Work
of “Possession” in Afro-Atlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, Ed. Pp. 47-78.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
van de Port, Mattijs.
Visualizing the Sacred: Video Technology, “Televisual” Style, and the Religious
Imagination in Bahian Candomblé. American Ethnologist 33(3): 444-461.
Week 11: Possession and Conflict (March 24th)
Letha Victor, PhD Candidate, Dept. of Anthropology at U of T, joins us in conversation.
These readings for this seminar meeting challenge students to confront the ways in which ideologies of
possession exist side-by-side, and often-in tension with, other politico-religious ideologies. What
political power structures organize and hierarchize ideological systems, including forms of possession,
in the face of Islamicization, Christian proselytization, and other dominant religious movements?
Behrend, Heike.
Power to Heal, Power to Kill: Spirit Possession and War in Northern Uganda (1984-1994).
In Spirit Possession, Modernity and Power in Africa. Heike Behrend and Ute Luig, eds. Pp.
20-33. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Masquelier, Adeline.
When Spirits Start Veiling: The Case of the Veiled She-Devil in a Muslim Town of Niger.
Africa Today 54(3): 38-64.
McAlister, Elizabeth.
Possessing the Land for Jesus. In Spirited Things: The Work of “Possession” in AfroAtlantic Religions. Paul Christopher Johnson, ed. Pp. 177-206. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Sharp, Lesley.
Exorcists, Psychiatrists, and the Problems of Possession in Northwest Madagascar. Social
Science and Medicine 38(4): 525-542.
Recommended Readings:
Boddy, Janice.
Spirits and Selves Revisited: Zar and Islam in Northern Sudan. In A Companion to the
Anthropology of Religion. Michael Lambek and Janice Boddy, eds. Pp. 444-467. Hoboken,
NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Week 12: Possession in the West, Part I (March 31st)
Moving on from last week’s exploration of possession, modernity, and conflict, the readings for this
week situate possession outside of the non-Western world. Scholarly accounts of possession outside of
the non-West are far from novel, yet there has been a revival in this literature as of late. We will discuss
what studies of possession in the Western world may mean for the field of spirit possession studies as a
whole, and how anthropological theories and conversations regarding possession in the non-Western
world relate to this material. Our conversation will inevitably return to Johnson’s arguments regarding
the genealogical trajectory of the Western conceptualization of “spirit possession.”
[1st half]
de Certeau, Michel.
The Possession at Loudun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hacking, Ian.
Multiple Personality Disorder and its Hosts. History of the Human Sciences 5(2): 3-31.
Luhrmann, Tanya.
Yearning for God: Trance as a Culturally Specific Practice and Its Implications for
Understanding Dissociative Disorders. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation 5(2): 101-129.
Recommended readings:
Freud, Sigmund.
1959[1923] A Neurosis of Demoniacal Possession in the 17th Century. In Collected Papers, Vol. 4.
Joan Rivere, trans. Pp. 436-472. London: Hogwarth Press.
Week 13: Possession in the West, Part II and Conclusion (April 7th)
This week we will wrap-up the course with a discussion of de Certeau’s book. If desired we may use
time during the seminar to discuss students’ final papers.
[2nd half]
de Certeau, Michel.
The Possession at Loudun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.