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Book: Religion and Sight

Chapter: 7. The Experience of Seeing: Spirit Possession as Performance

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.35752


Possession rituals are breath taking performances with colourful costumes, ecstatic dance movements and music that entice to join. They are efficacious, for the community, the medium and the possessing agent. For the observing researcher the aesthetic, performative approach offers a way to incorporate what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch, even what we feel.

This chapter is based on ethnographic research conducted in African derived religious communities in New York and São Paulo. It presents excerpts from the field diary with first-hand impressions of the rituals and reflects on the impact the participation had on the researcher. Focusing on the body of the mediums and the perception of the researcher, and how the body of the mediums seems to change, the chapter argues that the sight of the researcher can be used as a methodological bridge to overcome the boundary between scholars explaining experiences and people living them.

Chapter Contributors

  • Bettina Schmidt ([email protected] - bettinaschmidt) 'University of Wales Trinity St David'