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Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices

Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices: Anthropological Reflections

Anna Fedele
Ruy Llera Blanes
Series: EASA Series
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices
    Book Description:

    Social scientists and philosophers confronted with religious phenomena have always been challenged to find a proper way to describe the spiritual experiences of the social group they were studying. The influence of the Cartesian dualism of body and mind (or soul) led to a distinction between non-material, spiritual experiences (i.e., related to the soul) and physical, mechanical experiences (i.e., related to the body). However, recent developments in medical science on the one hand and challenges to universalist conceptions of belief and spirituality on the other have resulted in "body" and "soul" losing the reassuring solid contours they had in the past. Yet, in "Western culture," the body-soul duality is alive, not least in academic and media discourses. This volume pursues the ongoing debates and discusses the importance of the body and how it is perceived in contemporary religious faith: what happens when "body" and "soul" are un-separated entities? Is it possible, even for anthropologists and ethnographers, to escape from "natural dualism"? The contributors here present research in novel empirical contexts, the benefits and limits of the old dichotomy are discussed, and new theoretical strategies proposed.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-208-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. x-xxviii)
    Anna Fedele and Ruy Llera Blanes

    In the year 2000, the spirit of an Angolan prophet called Simão Toko (1918 – 1984) entered the body of a young man called Afonso Nunes, who was then ‘personified’ by him, ‘filled’ with his soul. The young man then assumed the bodily posture of the original prophet and took up the leadership of the ‘Tokoist Church’, one of the most important Christian movements in Angola. Today, over one million believers in Angola and in the Angolan diaspora follow him, accepting this form of ‘spiritual embodiment’ (Blanes 2011).

    This metaphor of spiritual embodiment, obviously, is not exclusive to Angola or...

  6. Part I. Bodies and Souls in Catholic Settings

    • 1 ‘I want to feel the Camino in my legs’. Trajectories of Walking on the Camino de Santiago
      (pp. 3-22)
      Keith Egan

      Every year tens of thousands of men and women travel to a small village in France at the foot of the Pyrenees and sign up to trek for weeks across northern Spain. Making their way west, moving slowly under an often-blistering sun and through a landscape that preserves much evidence of a thousand-year heritage, they eventually arrive at the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela and the supposed relics of St James, the disciple of Jesus Christ who, with John his brother and Peter, were present at key moments in Christ’s ministry and formed his ‘inner circle’ of apostles (see...

    • 2 Holding the Saint in One’s Arms. Miracles and Exchange in Apiao, Southern Chile
      (pp. 23-42)
      Giovanna Bacchiddu

      This essay is dedicated to the relationship Apiao people have with the miraculous San Antonio de Padua,¹ and to the supreme expression of this relationship, the ritual thanking for the saint’s gift of a miracle with a novena. San Antonio novenas are public gatherings in private households to celebrate the statue of a miraculous saint with prayers, food and alcoholic drinks, and dance. Apiao is a small island of the archipelago of Chiloé, in southern Chile, with a population of approximately seven hundred inhabitants living in scattered households inserted in a peaceful rural setting, who live out of agriculture combined...

    • 3 Embodying Devotion, Embodying Passion. The Italian Tradition of The Festa dei Gigli in Nola
      (pp. 43-66)
      Katia Ballacchino

      The complex scenario of the body, of corporeal reality and its tight link with the notion of ‘soul’ is a delicate problem that has been investigated by different scholars such as theology experts, philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists, etc. Nevertheless, the debate around the dichotomy between body and soul has often evolved in an unbalanced and fragmented way. Within the interdisciplinary dimension of such plural and sparse reflections, the contribution of anthropology occupies a role deserving some rethinking, especially considering the specificity of the ethnographic work that mirrors the complexity of each individual field of investigation. The empirical approach that characterises...

  7. Part II. Corporeality, Belief and Human Mobility

    • 4 The Body and the World. Missionary Performances and the Experience of the World in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands
      (pp. 69-90)
      João Rickli

      This chapter analyses sensational and bodily aspects of missionary and diaconal initiatives of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, examining the role played by the displaying of liturgical elements related to mission and diaconate, such as images, objects, people and narratives, in the ritual life of the church. Following the proposition of this volume, namely, to foreground the often neglected body-soul dichotomy in the study of religious phenomena, this chapter aims at showing how mission and world-diaconate come alive in the parishes of the Dutch Protestant Church. I argue that mission and diaconate are not only understood as abstract theological...

    • 5 ‘How To Deal with the Dutch’. The Local and the Global in the Habitus of the Saved Soul
      (pp. 91-108)
      Kim Knibbe

      In December 2007 I attended a workshop in The Hague, Netherlands, organised by a Nigerian-initiated Pentecostal church that has set itself the task of ‘bringing the gospel back to Europe’, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). The workshop was titled ‘How To Deal with the Dutch’. Many of the about fifty people that attended were pastors and church workers in the RCCG Netherlands themselves, both male and female; some couples had brought their children. This workshop was remarkable in the way the woman leading the workshop confronted the mostly African, in many cases Nigerian, leaders of the parishes in...

    • 6 Is Witchcraft Embodied? Representations of the Body in Talimbi Witchcraft
      (pp. 109-130)
      Aleksandra Cimpric

      Stories of witches ‘eating the heart or soul’ of their victims, transforming them into animals or zombies, are quite common throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The Central African Republic (CAR) is no exception. Witches, sorcerers, vampires, zombies, Mami-Wata or mermaids, those figures that are according to Joseph Tonda (2005) ‘imaginary or invisible’, are generally part of daily life for much of the Central African population. Adam Ashforth (2001: 208), working in Soweto, points out that ‘they (Sowetans) live in a world with witches.’ These figures ensue from ‘the natural attitude’ because they are simply a part of everyday life (Olivier de Sardan...

  8. Part III. New Spiritualities Challenging the Body/Soul Divide

    • 7 When Soma Encounters the Spiritual. Bodily Praxes of Performed Religiosity in Contemporary Greece
      (pp. 133-150)
      Eugenia Roussou

      It was a warm afternoon in August, towards the end of my ethnographic research on the island of Crete. I was having one of my last field site strolls around the town of Rethymno when a shop window, filled with evil eye amulets and decorative items, caught my attention and drew me into the shop. The owner, a friendly Rethymniot woman, greeted me, and we began to talk about the evil eye. During our conversation Elena,¹ an Orthodox Christian adherent and a strong believer in the evil eye, narrated an incident that, as she explained, had changed the way in...

    • 8 Reenchanted Bodies. The Significance of the Spiritual Dimension in Danish Healing Rituals
      (pp. 151-167)
      Ann Ostenfeld-Rosenthal

      Recently, Western countries are placing an increasing importance of a holistic view on illness and healing.¹ The addition of a new dimension to the biopsychosocial explanation of illness is proposed: the spiritual.² This may be seen as a reflection of the general tendency at the level of everyday lived experience, including a growing interest in spirituality and changing notions of body and soul/spirit. This tendency is also reflected in my study of spiritual healing and patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS)³ on which this essay is based.

      This essay will address the following questions: What is the role of the...

    • 9 The Struggle for Sovereignty. The Interpretation of Bodily Experiences in Anthropology and among Mediumistic Healers in Germany
      (pp. 168-178)
      Ehler Voss

      The question of how to interpret the experiences we have during our first shamanic journeys was one of the main questions the participants of the weekend beginners course I joined were examining. The alternative seemed to be that the source of these experiences lies inside or outside the own Self. As one participant put it, ‘Do the spirits we meet really exist or are they just projections of my inner self?’ I was there as part of my ethnological PhD fieldwork concerning mediumistic healers in Germany. From 2005 to 2007 I followed the metaphor of ‘mediumistic healing’ and came in...

    • 10 Transforming Musical Soul into Bodily Practice. Tone Eurythmy, Anthroposophy and Underlying Structures
      (pp. 179-202)
      Andrew Spiegel and Silke Sponheuer

      A distinctive feature in the practice of anthroposophy – a philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925)¹ that undergirds the pedagogical principles used contemporarily in Waldorf/Steiner schools, of which there are now over nine hundred worldwide – is the development and performance of eurythmy, and its use as a practical artistic expressive form in those schools.² As a performed art form, eurythmy has the intention to make musical and spoken sound visible (as distinct from audible) in and through human bodily movement. Underlying that intention, moreover, is an anthroposophical understanding of the cosmos that associates diverse cosmic, astronomical, earthly and...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 203-205)
  10. Subject Index
    (pp. 206-212)