Spirit Possession

Multidisciplinary Approaches to a Worldwide Phenomenon
Spirit Possession book cover
$105.00 / €88.00 / £75.00
Publication date: 
June 2022, 420 pages, 20 b&w photos

Possession, a seemingly irrational phenomenon, has posed challenges to generations of scholars rooted in Western notions of body–soul dualism, self and personhood, and a whole set of presuppositions inherited from Christian models of possession that was “good” or “bad.” The authors of the essays in this book present a new and more promising approach. They conceive spirit possession as a form of communication, of expressivity, of culturally defined behavior that should be understood in the context of local, vernacular theories and empiric reflections.

With the aim of reformulating the comparative anthropology of spirit possession, the editors have opened corridors between previously separate areas of research. Together, anthropologists and historians working on several historical periods and in different European, African, South American, and Asian cultural areas attempt to redefine the very concept of possession, freeing it from the Western notion of the self and more clearly delineating it from related matters such as witchcraft, devotion, or mysticism. The book also provides an overview of new research directions, including novel methods of participant observation and approaches to spirit possession as indigenous historiography.

Foreword by Éva Pócs and András Zempléni
András Zempléni: Discerning Spirit Possessions
Éva Pócs: Spirit Possession in Europe: Christian and non-Christian, Official and Popular Concepts and Practices

Part 1. Current Constellations of Spirit Possession Concepts
Gilles Tarabout: Reflecting on the Vocabulary of “Possession” in a South Indian Context
Bettina B. Schmidt: “Incorporation Does Not Exist”: The Brazilian Rejection of the Term “Possession” and Why It Exists Nonetheless
Heike Behrend: “Figures of Return”: The Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit and Embandwa Spirit Possession in Western Uganda
Éva Pócs: Possession concepts and anti-Devil practices in the lived religion of Roman Catholic communities in Harghita and Bacău.
Mary Keller: The Indigeneity of Spirit Possession: A Contribution to Comparative Theory

Part 2. Transitions and Thresholds of Change in Possession Concepts and Practices
Thomas J. Csordas: Specter, phantom, demon
Pierre-Henri Castel: Confession as Exorcism: Jean-Joseph Surin, Jeanne de Belciel, and the “Obsession” of Loudun
Florence Chave-Mahir: Devil Possession through Exorcism Formulas in a 10th-century Romano-Germanic Pontifical: The Body as Microcosm
Emanuela Timotin: Eastern Christian Prayers against Hailstorms: Aquatic Demons and Divine Powers in Canonical and Apocryphal Contexts
Janine Rivière: The Nightmare in Early Modern England

Part 3. Interactive Transformations of Popular and Official Possession Idioms and Practices
Ida Fröhlich: Spirit (RWH) in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Christine D. Worobec: Demonic Possession in Orthodox Imperial Russia: Official and Popular Religious Conceptions
Gábor Klaniczay: The Healing of the Possessed in Medieval Canonization Processes
Sarah Ferber: The Sabbath of the Soul
Dániel Bárth: Ideas of Possession in 18th-century Hungarian Clerical Thought

Part 4. The Nature of “Communication” Triggered by Public Possession
Daniela Berti Possession, Communication, and Power in the Indian Himalayas
Michèle Fiéloux and Jacques Lombard: A Day-to-Day Family Chronicle with “Personages” in Madagascar

Part 5. The Social Creativity of Spirit Possession: From Possession by the Dead to Spirit Possession as Indigenous Historiography
Nancy Caciola: Domesticating the dead: Ghosts, spirit possession, and spirit mediumship in medieval Europe
András Zempléni: From Illness to Public Incarnation: Socialization of Spirit Possession in Senegal
Janice Boddy: Zār and Colonial History in Northern Sudan
Michael Lambek: On Spirit Possession and Some Parallels with Reincarnation