Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

8. Touch and Other Senses: Feeling the Truth in Basket Divination

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Sonia Silva [+-]
Skidmore College
Sónia Silva is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Skidmore College. She is the author of Along an African Border: Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets (Penn Press, 2011), a study of divination and divining baskets (lipele) among Angolan refugees in Northwest Zambia. This and other publications on the topic of divination draw on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Northwest Zambia, and are inspired by the concepts of lived religion, material religion, and existential anthropology. Presently, Silva is researching the role of the colonial idea of the fetish in the early representation of Africa in European and North American museums as well as the demise of the “fetish” beginning in the 1960s, when curators reframed the African religious objects in their displays as modernist art imbued with spirituality.


In an effort to access spiritual knowledge, the human senses work in collaboration. In the case of basket divination, a renowned technique found in the southern fringes of Central Africa, the distant senses of sight and hearing work together with the near and affective senses of touch, kinesthesia, and pain. Basket divination shows the value of synergy, cosensing, intersensoriality, and synesthesia in religious practice. It also shows that spiritual truths are not only seen in the form of material symbols and heard as words, but also felt with the hands, the moving body, and the aching heart. Basket divination challenges any definition of religiosity that denies the senses, the body, and material religion a key role in its performance.

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Silva, Sonia. 8. Touch and Other Senses: Feeling the Truth in Basket Divination. Religion and Touch. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 175-192 Sep 2021. ISBN 9781800500334. Date accessed: 11 Aug 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42176. Sep 2021

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