Recursivity and the Self-Reflexive Cosmos

Tricksters in Cuban and Brazilian Spirit Mediumship Practices

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

In this article, I explore how the cosmologies of two popular spirit possession cults—Espiritismo in Cuba and Umbanda in Brazil—exhibit forms of recursivity and self-reflexivity. Taking my cue from Don Handelman’s notion that the cosmos often contains its own logic of self-becoming, I argue that in these ethnographic cases, recursivity results from the interplay between, on the one hand, the spirits’ expression of their autonomy from living beings and, on the other, the spirits’ contingency for their effectiveness on human belief, representation, perception, and action. In Espiritismo and Umbanda, spirits intervene in human affairs unpredictably, throwing new light on anthropological and native conceptualizations of reflexivity.

Contributor Notes

Diana Espírito Santo received her PhD in 2009 from University College London, writing on concepts of knowledge and personhood in Cuban spirit mediumship practices. Since then she has studied notions of cosmological change in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Umbanda in Brazil. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Programme at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She has recently authored Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Self-hood in Cuban Espiritismo (2015) and has edited three books, including The Social Life of Spirits (2014, with Ruy Blanes).

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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