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Recursivity and the Self-Reflexive Cosmos

Tricksters in Cuban and Brazilian Spirit Mediumship Practices

Diana Espírito Santo

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.

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An Author Meets Her Critics

Around "The Mind Possessed: The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition" by Emma Cohen

Diana Espirito Santo, Arnaud Halloy, Pierre Liénard and Emma Cohen

“Why spirits?” asks Emma Cohen (97)—why are concepts of intentional and agentive supernatural beings such as spirits and gods so prevalent cross-culturally? What makes them appealing, contagious, and lasting? And what kinds of assumptions about the world and its workings do they entail and do they generate? In The Mind Possessed, Cohen offers us some answers; to some degree by appealing to her ethnography of the Afro-Brazilian practice of batuque in the Amazon-bordering town of Belém, but mostly by subordinating particularistic concerns to what she considers more general ‘scientific’ ones. However, it may be the questions, rather than the answers, that merit revising.

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Keith Egan, Mathias Thaler, Anna Fedele, Maarit Forde, Tuomas Martikainen, Kim Knibbe, Maria M. Griera, Katerina Seraidari, José Mapril, Roger Canals, Diana Espirito Santo, Titus Hjelm, Vlad Naumescu, Vânia Zikán Cardoso, Mathieu Fribault, Rebecca Prentice, Ryan Schram, Jacqueline Ryle, Alexandre Surrallés, James S. Bielo, César Ceriani Cernadas and Maïté Maskens

BENTLEY, Alex (ed.), The Edge of Reason? Science and Religion in Modern Society, 222 pp., foreword. London: Continuum, 2008. Paperback, £13.99. ISBN: 9781847062185.

BERGER, Peter, Grace DAVIE, and Effi e FOKAS, Religious America, Secular Europe? A Theme and Variations, 176 pp., bibliography, index. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. Paperback, £16.99. ISBN: 978075466011.

LEVEY, Geoffrey Brahm and Tariq MODOOD (eds.), Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, 274 pp., tables, bibliographical references, index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008 Paperback, $31.99/£17.99. ISBN: 9780521695411.

FAVRET-SAADA, Jeanne, 2009, Désorceler, 169 pp., bibliographical references. Paris: Éditions de L’Olivier. Paperback, €18.50. ISBN: 9782879296395.

GUADELOUPE, Francio, Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean, 255 pp., illustrations, notes, references, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Hardback, $50.00/£34.95. ISBN: 9780520254886.

HACKETT, Rosalind (ed.), Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars, 480 pp. London: Equinox, 2008. Paperback, £18.99/$29.95. ISBN: 9781845532277.

JACKSON, Michael, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Relatedness, Religiosity and the Real, 256 pp., preface. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Paperback, $22.95. ISBN: 9780822343813.

KIRSCH, Thomas G., and Bertram TURNER (eds.), 2009, Permutations of Order: Religion and Law as Contested Sovereignties, 269 pp., bibliographical references, index. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate. Hardback, £55.00. ISBN: 9780754672593.

MAHIEU, Stéphanie and Vlad NAUMESCU (eds.), Churches In-Between. Greek Catholic Churches in Postsocialist Europe, 340 pp., bibliographical references, tables, index. Munster: Lit Verlag, 2008. Paperback, € 29.90. ISBN: 9783825899103.

MARRANCI, Gabriele, The Anthropology of Islam, 224 pp., introduction, conclusion, references. Oxford: Berg, 2008, Paperback, £13.38. ISBN: 9781845202859.

MEYER, Birgit (ed.), Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses, 292 pp., illustrations, preface, bibliography, index. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Hardcover, $90. ISBN: 9780230605558.

PALMIÉ, Stephan (ed.), Africa of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions, 388 pages, preface. Leiden: Brill, 2008, Volume 33 of Studies of Religion in Africa: Supplements to the Journal of Religion in Africa. Hardback, €88.00/US$ 126.00. ISBN: 9789004164727.

PETERSEN, Jesper Aagaard (ed.), Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology, xii + 277 pp., index. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009. Hardback, £55.00. ISBN: 9780754652861.

PINE, Frances and João PINA-CABRAL (eds.), On the Margins of Religion. ix, 286 p., illus., bibliogrs. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008. Hardback, $90.00/£45.00. ISBN: 9781845454098.

PINXTEN, Rik and Lisa DIKOMITIS (eds.), When God Comes to Town: Religious Traditions in Urban Contexts, 151 pp., figures, index. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009, Volume 4 of Culture and Politics/Politics and Culture Series. Hardcover, $70.00/£45.00. ISBN: 9781845455545.

SARRÓ, Ramon, The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone, xviii + 239 pp., maps, figures, glossary, bibliography, index. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, 2009. Hardback, £55. ISBN: 9780748635153.

SCHMIDT, Bettina E., Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City, 208 pp., figures, bibliography, index. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. Hardback, £55.00. ISBN: 9780754663652.

STEWART, Pamela J. and Andrew STRATHERN (eds.), Religious and Ritual Change: Cosmologies and Histories, 371 pp., preface, appendix, index. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2009. Paperback, $50. ISBN: 9781594605765.

TOMLINSON, Matt, In God’s Image: The Metaculture of Fijian Christianity, 263 pp., preface, index, references. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Paperback, $21.95/£14.95. ISBN: 9780520257788.

TREMLETT, Paul-François, Lévi-Strauss on Religion: The Structuring Mind, 132 pp., bibliographical references, index. London: Equinox, 2008. Paperback, £14.99/$24.95. ISBN: 9781845532789.

VILAÇA, Aparecida and Robin M. WRIGHT (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, 266 pp., index, illustrations, maps, afterword. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. Hardback, £55. ISBN: 9780754663553.

CANALS, Roger (dir.). 2008. The Many Faces of a Venezuelan Goddess. Paris: CNRS. 55 min., color.

MOTTIER, Damien (dir.). 2007. Prophète(s). France, Les Films de la Jetée. 46 minutes, color.

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Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic, Joana Bahia, Luiz Costa, Jonathan Mair, Dolores P. Martinez, Stephan Feuchtwang, Richard Irvine, Stephen D. Glazier, Diana Espirito Santo, Simion Pop, William Dawley, Emily B. Baran, Richard Baxstrom, Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, Mette High, Amy Whitehead, Sindre Bangstad, Thomas G. Kirsch and Ruy Llera Blanes

BUBANDT, Nils, and Martijn VAN BEEK, eds., Varieties of Secularism in Asia: Anthropological Explorations of Religion, Politics and the Spiritual, 261 pp., illustrations, index. London: Routledge, 2012. Hardback, $145. ISBN 9780415616720.

CAPONE, Stefania, Searching for Africa in Brazil: Power and Tradition in Candomblé, 336 pp., illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Paperback, $23.95. ISBN 9780822346364.

COURSE, Magnus, Becoming Mapuche: Person and Ritual in Indigenous Chile, 224 pp., illustrations, notes, glossary, index. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Paperback, $25. ISBN 9780252078231.

DAY, Abby, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 224 pp., references, index. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Hardback, £55, $99. ISBN 9780199577873.

ENDRES, Kirsten W., Performing the Divine: Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam, 240 pp., bibliography, index. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2011. Paperback, £16.99, $32. ISBN 9788776940768.

FJELSTAD, Karen, and Nguyen THIHIEN, Spirits without Borders: Vietnamese Spirit Mediums in a Transnational Age, 230 pp., glossary, notes, references, index. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Hardback, $90. ISBN 9780230114937.

GEERTZ, Armin W., and Jappe Sinding JENSEN, eds., Religious Narrative, Cognition and Culture: Image and Word in the Mind of Narrative, 348 pp. Sheffield: Equinox, 2011. Paperback, £24.99, $39.95. ISBN 9781845532956.

GRIFFITH, Ezra E. H., Ye Shall Dream: Patriarch Granville Williams and the Barbados Spiritual Baptists, 207 pp., references, index. Mona: University of the West Indies Press, 2010. Paperback, $35. ISBN 9789766402433.

HAYES, Kelly E., Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality, and Black Magic in Brazil, xiii, 293 pp., illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Paperback, $27.95, £19.95. ISBN 9780520262652.

KAPFERER, Bruce, Kari TELLE, and Annelin ERIKSEN, eds., Contemporary Religiosities: Emergent Socialities and the Post-Nation-State, 221 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010. Paperback, $25, £15. ISBN 9780857451309.

LINDHARDT, Martin, ed., Practicing the Faith: The Ritual Life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians, 352 pp., tables, bibliography, index. New York: Berghahn Books, 2011. Hardback, $95, £55. ISBN 9781845457709.

LUEHRMANN, Sonja, Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic, 292 pp., illustrations, maps, glossary, notes, references, index. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. Paperback, $27.95. ISBN 9780253223555.

OBEYESEKERE, Gananath, The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience, xx + 622 pp., illustrations, notes, glossary, index. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Hardback, $50, £34.50. ISBN 9780231153621.

OCHOA, Todd Ramón, Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba, 328 pp., notes, bibliography, index. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Paperback, $26.95, £18.95. ISBN 9780520256842.

PEDERSEN, Morten Axel, Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia, 250 pp., bibliography, glossary, index. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. Paperback, $28.95. ISBN 9780801476204.

ROUNTREE, Kathryn, Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society, 206 pp., figures, bibliography, index. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. Hardback, £55, $82. ISBN 9780754669739.

WARNER, Michael, Jonathan VANANTWERPEN, and Craig CALHOUN, eds., Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, 337 pp., name index, subject index. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010. Paperback, $46.50. ISBN 9780674048577.

WERBNER, Richard, Holy Hustlers, Schism, and Prophecy: Apostolic Reformation in Botswana, 268 pp., illustrations, notes, references, index, DVD. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Hardback, $60. ISBN 9780520268531.

COLOMBANI, Hervé, dir., Nouvelle Terre Promise, 45 min., color. Paris: CNRS Images, 2008.