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Dark Night of the Early Modern Soul

Humanists, Clashing Cartesians, Jesuits, and the New Physiology

Jeffrey D. Burson

During the sixteenth century, Jesuit renovations of medieval Aristotelian conceptions of the soul afforded an important discursive field for René Descartes to craft a notion of the soul as a substance distinct from the body and defined by thought. Cartesianism, however, augmented rather than diminished the skeptical crisis over the soul and the mind–body union. This article explores the work of a Jesuit intellectual, René-Joseph Tournemine, whose attempt to navigate between Malebranche’s Cartesianism and the metaphysics of Leibniz proved influential during the eighteenth century in ways that intersect with the development of Enlightenment biological science. Tournemine’s theologically motivated conjectures about the nature of the mind–body union reinforced an important shift away from considering the soul as a metaphysical substance in favor of seeing it as a pervasive motive force or vital principle animating the human organism.

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The Algebra of Souls

Ontological Multiplicity and the Transformation of Animism in Southwest China

Mireille Mazard

In Nusu animism, the number and nature of a person’s ‘soul attributes’ change during his or her lifetime and after death. Drawing on Michael Scott’s study of Arosi poly-ontology, this article situates animistic personhood in a plural socio-cosmic order. Living and dead, human and non-human, Nusu and non-Nusu occupy separate, communicating domains. Meaningful exchanges across boundaries require the metamorphosis of persons and ideas. Nusu animism, continuously engaged in an ‘algebra of souls’, understands the self in terms of its multiplicity, its latent and emerging aspects. Through the ethnography of two death rituals—one ‘real’ and one staged for visiting researchers—this article shows that animism is being hyper-reflexively reinvented by Nusu animists themselves.

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Laila Prager

The concept of nafs is frequently mentioned in the Qur'an and in post-Qur'anic literature, where it is identified with the idea of the soul and individual moral behaviour. Accordingly, this concept appears in a number of Islamised societies, although it is usually associated with a wide range of different, localised socio-cultural meanings and understandings. In the Alawi-Nusairy society of south-eastern Turkey, the notion of nafs is a polysemic focal concept that encompasses ideas and practices simultaneously relating to the person, the society and the cosmos as a whole. To understand these notions and values, this article analyses the way in which the Alawites/Nusairies conceptualise the emergence of the nafs within the overall process of procreation and examines local beliefs in rebirth, 'metempsychosis' and 'gendered' souls.

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Bringing the Soul Back to the Self

Soul Retrieval in Neo-shamanism

Galina Lindquist

It has been generally agreed that rituals of healing work through transforming the embodied self; thus, they are especially fit to be analyzed as rituals in their own right. This chapter focuses on the ritual of soul retrieval as it is practiced by Western urban neo-shamans. It argues that apart from giving the patient new memories and new narratives of the self, this version of soul retrieval works by staging a formalized context for forgiveness, here conceptualized as reconciliation between the self and the mundane and divine others. It is argued, however, that the mechanism of this healing ritual is better understood in the light of New Age ontologies of the self, consciousness, and the divine, making ‘ritual in its own right‚’ a good first step towards re-engaging with the social.

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Introduction

Anthropological Knowledge Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul

Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard

In this introduction, we propose a new approach to anthropological knowledge making that would observe the ‘hyper-reflexive’ quality of ethnographic exchanges. We show that anthropological ideas infiltrate themselves into the discourse of native thinkers, even as native ideas regenerate anthropological theory. Our starting point is ‘animism’, a key concept of anthropological theory. We suggest that anthropologists and their interlocutors jointly reinvent animistic ideas through a process we describe as the ‘reflexive feedback loop’, in which abstract ideas about practice and belief are appropriated and recirculated by research participants. By way of conclusion, we reflect on how anthropologists and their collaborators ‘animate’ soul concepts through diverse forms of agency such as metamorphosis, doubling, autobiographical narrative, hidden jokes, and even technological animism.

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Richard Langston

Starting with the surprising role the soul assumed in the West German music essay from the early 1980s, this article interrogates a peculiar, misunderstood middle passage in dominant historiographies of German pop literature—the new wave music essay—that transformed itself at the dawn of the 1990s—shortly before the literary phenomenon labeled Popliteratur emerged— by embracing then emergent Anglo-American Cultural Studies. The importance of new wave music for the essay’s regard for soul were lost on both pop literature and its attendant literary histories. The “studies model” has, at least in this one instance, smoothed over historical ruptures with unfortunate repercussions for our understanding of the precarious writerly mediation of life and music shortly before the value of poetics for life vanished altogether.

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Liana Chua

This article centers on the somatic modes through which ghosts, spirits, and other unseen beings are apprehended as felt experiences by the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Malaysian Borneo. Such experiences reveal a local epistemology of supernatural encounters that associates vision with normality and its suspension with both sensory and social liminality. The second half of the article explores how this model has been extended to contemporary Bidayuh Christianity, thus rendering God, Jesus, and other personages viscerally real in people's lives. Drawing on the ethnography and recent developments in the anthropology of religion, I argue that these 'soul encounters' hold important theoretical and methodological lessons for anthropologists, pushing us to reshape our conceptions of belief, as well as our approaches to the study of ostensibly intangible religious phenomena.

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The Domestication of Souls

A Comparative Approach to Mesoamerican Shamanism

Saúl Millán

Following the distinction between horizontal and vertical shamanism originally proposed by Stephen Hugh-Jones, this article examines the concept of nagualism in different Mesoamerican indigenous societies and the role that animal domestication has played in these conceptions. Through a comparative study of indigenous societies like the Nahua, Huave, and Tzotzil Maya, different relationships between the human and animal worlds are analyzed in order to show the changes in ontological frameworks that took place during the colonial period, through the introduction of extensive livestock farming. As a protective institution, post-colonial nagualism developed in indigenous societies that have domesticated animals because farmers see their relationship with their flocks similarly to the connection between themselves and their protecting spirits.

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Souls and Arseholes

The Double Vision of The Century's Daughter

Jenny Newman

Pat Barker chronicles the lives that history ignores, and her best characters, though articulate, often find it hard to make themselves heard. Though her early work has been sometimes passed over by academics as gritty but less inventive than the later, she can be seen from her first novel onwards to be locating herself in a postmodernist tradition. Her use of dialogue, parody and pun, and her commitment to the communal and the choric, constantly remind us that her books are textual inventions; and her novels’ plots, instead of completing a pattern, seldom allow us to believe that her characters are consistent, or that their lives have a unifying purpose.

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“Plunging the Soul into Contemplation”

On MoMA's Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes

Nicole C. Rudolph

This article reviews the New York Museum of Modern Art's recent Le Corbusier retrospective and its accompanying catalogue. The author critically evaluates the curators' reassessment of Le Corbusier's legacy via the lens of landscape. A key insight gleaned from the show pertains to technologies of mobility: inspired by the views from the automobile, the steamer, and the airplane, Le Corbusier deployed modern materials and techniques of mass construction in order to maximize an inhabitant's contemplation of the natural world. What we learn from Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes, the author argues, is that the architect valorized and designed to prioritize “3 Cs”: circulation, composition, and contemplation. The notion of contemplation may be more useful to understanding Le Corbusier's architecture than the concept of landscape.