(Offered as REL 325 and BLST 375) Why channel the spirits of the dead? What does it mean to be possessed? In this course, we’ll explore mediumship and exorcism practices in the Atlantic World from the early modern period to today. Through case studies that include Haitian Vodou in Brooklyn, Umbanda in Brazil, and Palo Monte in Cuba, we will take a broad look at the different ritual practices that fall under the academic category of spirit possession. We will consider the questions that spirit possession raises about race, gender, and sexuality, particularly in the contemporary context. We will also ask more fundamental questions: why have outsiders commonly described the spirits’ presence in terms of possession—a term rarely used by practitioners themselves—and how does the trope of the possessed person serve as a foil for the construction of the autonomous (i.e., self-possessed) modern subject?
Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Amoruso.