Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

7. The Experience of Seeing: Spirit Possession as Performance

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Bettina E. Schmidt [+-]
University of Wales Trinity St David
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Prof Bettina E. Schmidt is a cultural anthropologist and currently professor in study of religions at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. She received her doctorate and post-doctorate from the University of Marburg, Germany. Previously she worked at Marburg University, Oxford University and Bangor University. She was also visiting professor at the City University of New York and visiting scholar at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo. Prof Schmidt is the current President of the British Association for the Study of Religions. She has published extensively on Caribbean and Latin American religions, religious experience, anthropology of religion, identity, cultural theories, gender, and migration. Her main fieldwork has been conducted in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, New York City, and Brazil. She is the author of Spirit and Trance in Brazil: An Anthropology of Religious Experiences (2016, Bloomsbury), Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City (2008, Ashgate), Einführung in die Religionsethnologie (2008, Reimer Verlag Berlin), and co-editor of Spirit Possession and Trance: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2010, Continuum), and of Handbook of Contemporary Brazilian Religions (2016, Brill).


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.

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Schmidt, Bettina. 7. The Experience of Seeing: Spirit Possession as Performance. Religion and Sight. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 122-140 Jul 2020. ISBN 9781781797495. Date accessed: 21 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35752. Jul 2020

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