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Jeanne Favret-Saada’s Minimal Ontology

Belief and Disbelief of Mystical Forces, Perilous Conditions, and the Opacity of Being

Theodoros Kyriakides

Keywords: belief; death; disbelief; mystical forces; ontological turn; ontology; structural functionalism; violence

This article explores mystical belief and disbelief in Jeanne Favret-Saada’s ethnography of Bocage witchcraft in relation to the ontological turn in anthropology. The ethnographic archive provides numerous examples in which natives display seemingly contradictory practices of belief and disbelief when it comes to mystical forces. A common way by which anthropologists deal with such contradictions is to attempt to explicate their social function and cultural significance. In doing so, they perceive belief and disbelief to be cognitive states of clarity. Favret-Saada differs in her approach since she apprehends mystical belief and disbelief to be ambivalent and connected and, as I argue, portrays it as being caught in a perilous arrangement of death. In order to convey these points, I compare her ethnographic work to that of E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Rane Willerslev. The article goes on to analyze Favret-Saada’s minimal ontology of the opaque subject and how it can inform ontological anthropology.

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