Spirit possession

Igreja, Victor ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1408-8053 (2018) Spirit possession. In: The international encyclopedia of anthropology. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Oxford, United Kingdom. ISBN 9780470657225


In many societies around the world, spirit possession is a multifaceted phenomenon. It causes ill-health and suffering, is a source of knowledge regardingways of tackling social and health problems, and constitutes modes of collective remembering. In the expert literature, spirit possession is diversely referred to as altered states of consciousness, or dissociation or dissociative states. According to specific social circumstances, spirit possession is experienced as constructive in that it can provide healing resources; it is destructive in that it can cause serious health and social afflictions; and it can also be uncertain by encapsulating positive and negative experiences at once and over time. In the 1960s and 1970s sociological approaches reduced spirit possession to symbolic forms of power struggles. It was argued that disadvantaged groups, particularly women, attempted to redress their precarious condition by means of spirit possession (Lewis 1971). Anthropologists have spent lengthy periods of time conducting ethnographic studies of spirit possession in numerous societies and have suggested that the diversity of the phenomenon makes it difficult to capture in a single approach and definition.

Thus, anthropologists and other social scientists tend to use definitions that are consistent with the type of spirit possession that is prevalent in a particular society at a specific point in time, whereas others have applied multidisciplinary approaches in search of complex understandings.There are, however, points of departure that any student, expert, or media professional must consider when engaging with the topic. Spirit possession is an embodied phenomenon which nevertheless transcends the individual and becomes part of group dynamics (Stoller 1995). It flourishes in societies that cultivate the belief that an individual’s body and action can be influenced and controlled by deities and spirits. Spirit possession manifests in ritual practice and in everyday life. In these contexts and for the people involved, spirits are real and are regarded as persons (Lambek 1981). Spirits are inseparable fromparticular social attitudes to death and particular historical circumstances of death (Kwon 2008). Research conducted in numerous societies consistently confirms that both men and women are afflicted by spirits; however, women are the principal focal point of possession trance. Because of gaps in reporting the identity of the spirits, the literature offers a less clear picture regarding the gender of the spirits. Recent case studies conducted in specific war-torn communities show, however, that afflicting spirits tend to be male (Igreja et al. 2010). In social theory, spirit possession has continuously animated debates and analysis regarding the potential and limits of human intentionality (also referred to as 'human agency').

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to Published version, in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2018 01:37
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2019 05:41
Uncontrolled Keywords: epidemiology; ethnography; health and social afflictions; medical anthropology; religion; religious practices; social epidemiology; spirit possession
Fields of Research (2008): 16 Studies in Human Society > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210399 Historical Studies not elsewhere classified
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1899 Other Law and Legal Studies > 189999 Law and Legal Studies not elsewhere classified
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220402 Comparative Religious Studies
Fields of Research (2020): 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440107 Social and cultural anthropology
43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4303 Historical studies > 430399 Historical studies not elsewhere classified
48 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 4899 Other law and legal studies > 489999 Other law and legal studies not elsewhere classified
50 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 5004 Religious studies > 500402 Comparative religious studies
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified
C Society > 92 Health > 9299 Other Health > 929999 Health not elsewhere classified
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea1578
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/34952

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