The Sacred Self

The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing

Thomas J. Csordas
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp2cb
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  • Book Info
    The Sacred Self
    Book Description:

    How does religious healing work, if indeed it does? In this study of the contemporary North American movement known as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Thomas Csordas investigates the healing practices of a modern religious movement to provide a rich cultural analysis of the healing experience. This is not only a book about healing, however, but also one about the nature of self and self- transformation. Blending ethnographic data and detailed case studies, Csordas examines processes of sensory imagery, performative utterance, orientation, and embodiment. His book forms the basis for a rapprochement between phenomenology and semiotics in culture theory that will interest anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, physicians, and students of comparative religion and healing.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91906-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    How does religious healing work, if indeed it does? What is the nature of its therapeutic efficacy? What is actually being healed by the performances of the shaman, the medicine man, or the faith healer? What is particularly religious about them in the first place? These questions have preoccupied anthropologists for a long while, and there have been two broad types of answer offered. Many early studies were primarily concerned with whether healers or shamans were themselves mentally ill, typically with schiwphrenia or epilepsy. Whatever healing occurred was thought as likely to benefit the healer as it would those who...

  5. Chapter 2 Ritual Healing: Aftliction and Transformation
    (pp. 25-56)

    Among Catholic Charismatics, the practice of “praying over” people with the laying on of hands was first used for “baptizing in the Spirit.” It soon came also to be used to consecrate prayer-group leaders and for informal healing prayer. For the first several years ritual healing had a relatively low profile in the movement. People learned by doing, discovering how others responded to their ministry and what kind of prayer appeared to be most effective. Sometimes they consulted books on healing by Protestant authors. Starting in 1974 with then-Dominican priest Francis MacNutt, Catholic Charismatics began publishing books describing their own...

  6. Chapter 3 Therapeutic Process and Experience
    (pp. 57-73)

    In the last chapter we became familiar with Charismatic healers and patients and with the manner in which Charismatic healing coheres as a system of ritual performance. In examining the self processes of healers performing two kinds of ritual act, we also got a preliminary glimpse at the kind of experiential specificity we are trying to identify. Having described the Charismatic healing system, we must now proceed to an understanding of how it works. In order to get started properly, we must first distinguish therapeutic process from therapeutic procedure and outcome. In brief, procedure is the organized application of techniques...

  7. Chapter 4 Embodied Imagery and Divine Revelation
    (pp. 74-108)

    Clifford Geertz once described the study of religious change and its persuasive force as the “social history of the imagination” (1968:19). In this large sense, imagination is the general capacity of human creativity, including the reflexive capacity to transform one's orientation in the world. In a more restricted sense, imagination itself can be a mode of orientation in the world where by imagination we now refer to the concrete experience of “imagery.” Our concern in this and the next chapter is not only to discuss the occurrence of imagery among Charismatics, but to show that it is a culturally constituted...

  8. Chapter 5 Imaginal Performance and Healing of Memories
    (pp. 109-140)

    The discussion we begin in this chapter is continuous with those in both chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 3 we identified elements of experiential specificity in the Charismatic genre of “physical healing,” and now we undertake a similar task with respect to the second of the three major healing genres, inner healing or healing or memories. In chapter 4 we identified imagination as an important self process in Charismatic healing, focusing on the revelatory imagery of healers and the relation between imagination and perception in the intersubjective milieu of ritual performance. In this chapter we begin to examine therapeutic...

  9. Chapter 6 Image, Memory, and Efficacy
    (pp. 141-164)

    Like the relation between imagination and perception with which we were concerned in chapter 4, the relation between imagination and memory is known by scholars to be a close one. Personal memory of events and episodes (in contrast to the memory of schematic autobiographical facts) is known frequently to be experienced in imaginal form (Brewer 1986, Casey 1987), and it is precisely this kind of memory with which Charismatic ritual healing is concerned. So far we have developed a phenomenological argument that imagery in revelation and in imaginal performance is a bodily practice insofar as it engages multiple sensory modalities,...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter 7 Demons and Deliverance
    (pp. 165-199)

    A great deal can be told of a people from the character of their demons. How evil spirits are conceptualized as forces, beings, or entities offers insight not only into the structure of a cosmology, but into the structure of the behavioral environment that evil spirits share with humans. How they are said to afflict humans offers insight, from the perspective of its most characteristic vulnerabilities, into that cultural objectification we have labeled the person. How the action of evil spirits is experienced offers insight into the culturally constituted self as an ensemble of capacities for engaging the world, for...

  12. Chapter 8 Encounters with Evil
    (pp. 200-227)

    In this chapter we will flesh out our analysis of deliverance by examining texts that show how evil spirits are dealt with in the context of healing sessions. We highlight segments of ritual performance that reveal how Charismatics construe spirits as elements of their habitus and threats to the sacred self. In particular, our concern is to demonstrate the way in which deliverance constitutes a specific kind of emotional self process. We will conclude with a reflection on the phenomenology of control that will define the experiential specificity in the Charismatic encounter with evil.

    In all but the first of...

  13. Chapter 9 The Raging and the Healing
    (pp. 228-275)

    When anthropologists talk about the upright posture as characteristic of human beings, it is almost always with respect to the evolution of our biological organism. Upright posture freed our ancestors’ hands for the use of tools, and by elevating our heads above ground allowed for a visual command of the surroundings necessary for a hunting way of life. Far more than being a biological fact of life, however, upright posture is an existential fact of life. The phenomenological psychologist Erwin Straus argued cogently that “upright posture pre-establishes a definite attitude toward the world; it is a specific mode of beingin...

  14. Chapter 10 Envoi: The Sacred Self
    (pp. 276-282)

    In what sense can we claim that we have elaborated a cross-culturally useful phenomenological theory of the self, and in what sense have we produced a cultural phenomenology of healing? The answer to both questions is that our success depends on whether we have adequately identified process and transformation in their experiential specificity. Yet if healing is the creation of a sacred self, it might be objected that we have never said what the sacred self “is.” Our answer must be that if the self is elusive, it is because there is no such “thing” as the self. There are...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 283-304)
  16. References
    (pp. 305-322)
  17. Index
    (pp. 323-327)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 328-329)