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Lecture 17 Spirit possession and the social. Functionalist approach: I. M. Lewis He views spirit possession in terms of rational strategies What sort.

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Presentation on theme: "Lecture 17 Spirit possession and the social. Functionalist approach: I. M. Lewis He views spirit possession in terms of rational strategies What sort."— Presentation transcript:

1 Lecture 17 Spirit possession and the social

2 Functionalist approach: I. M. Lewis He views spirit possession in terms of rational strategies What sort of people become possessed? What function does possession play in relation to their material conditions of existence.

3 Somali pastoral nomads Muslim Public religious life is dominated by men who hold all the main positions of religious authority and prestige Women in religious life are merely passive agents. They are excluded from ownership of camels which form the joint stock-wealth of groups.

4 Forms of possession illness Cases of frustrated love Jinns (zar) entering a person Malevolent zar enter married women

5 Functionalist rational analysis Limited deterrent against the abuses of neglect and deprivation Means both of airing grievances and gaining some redress Distinguishes between dominant and peripheral cults – dominant moral system Upward mobility for people of low status who are excluded from the dominant religious forms.

6 Criticisms of rational explanations This type of explanation as reductive Possession and sorcery should be examined in their own terms We must locate the phenomena of possession in its wider social and historic context A political and moral act through which people are thinking about and making statements about their relationship to others Issues of selfhood, identity, challenging global political and economic domination, and articulating an aesthetic of human relationships to the world.

7 Aihwa Ongs Marxist-inspired approach Possession among young women working in the factories belonging to multinational corporations in a free trade zone in Malaysia Response to recent incorporation into an industrial workforce and the resulting sense of moral dislocation

8 Pre-industrial possession Spirit possession mainly affected married women (stress of being wives and mothers) Women are spiritually weaker – less akal (reason) and more hawa nafsu (human lust). Transgress morality. Large-scale influx of young rural men and women to urban schools and manufacturing plants since the early 1970s Possession acquired new meanings and as they related to different socio-economic conditions and moralities.

9 Alienation Modern factories were constructed and operated without regard to the moral sensibilities Contravened the womens conceptions of moral space and gender boundaries Management dehumanised the workers, treating them as an instrument of labour

10 Response/resistance to exploitation and alienation Possession episodes occurred in liminal spaces (toilets, locker room prayer room), and microscopes. Reflected feelings of alienation, loss of control, harsh working conditions, and moral disorder Management used the idiom of spirit possession to ignore the health and safety of their employees by classifying illness as hysteria.

11 Michael Lambek: structure and agency My concern is with how, given certain structures of possession and of kinship, the emerging identities of spirits in new hosts are negotiated and how the reappearance of particular spirits mediates intergenerational and sibling relationships and helps constitute the family as an ongoing yet changing unit. (Spirit possession/spirit succession p.711)

12 Focus on practice Not who is most susceptible to possession but why a person becomes possessed by particular spirits rather than others Shifts the focus from viewing the possessed individual as victims, or strategic manipulators, and focuses on the public and private relevance of their acts.

13 Spirit possession on Mayotte Distinct individuals with their own names and identities They may possess more than one person, but they never rise in two people at the same time Spirits engage in particular and enduring social relations with human beings They speak through the mediums and carry on past relationships through different mediums

14 Reproduction of lasting relations Possession is a means through which the family group (mraba) is preserved through time Kinship in this society is bilateral and there are no clear corporate descent groups Relations are based on the frequency of interaction, residential proximity and so on Possession points to constancy beyond the choices of individuals

15 Possession as practice Publicly available idiom and system of communication and for the production of social persons Matching host to spirit is a matter of human practice, and subject to tacit negotiation The suitability of the identity has by this time usually been worked out behind the scenes beforehand Possession is a public idiom in which questions of family continuity and change are given objective form and hence partially worked out.

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