The Law of Possession: Ritual, Healing, and the Secular State

Paperback | December 8, 2015

EditorWilliam S. Sax, Helene Basu

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Rituals combining healing with spirit possession and court-like proceedings are found around the world and throughout history. A person suffers from an illness that cannot be cured, for example, and in order to be healed performs a ritual involving a prosecution and a defense, a judge andwitnesses. Divine beings then speak through oracles, spirits possess the victim and are exorcized, and local gods intervene to provide healing and justice.Such practices seem to be the very antithesis of modernity, and many modern, secular states have systematically attempted to eliminate them. What is the relationship between healing, spirit possession, and the law, and why are they so often combined? Why are such rituals largely absent from modernsocieties, and what happens to them when the state attempts to expunge them from their health and justice systems, or even to criminalize them? Despite the prevalence of rituals involving some or all of these elements, this volume represents the first attempt to compare and analyze themsystematically.The Law of Possession brings together historical and contemporary case studies from East Asia, South Asia, and Africa, and argues that despite consistent attempts by modern, secular states to discourage, eliminate, and criminalize them, these types of rituals persist and even thrive because theymeet widespread human needs.

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Rituals combining healing with spirit possession and court-like proceedings are found around the world and throughout history. A person suffers from an illness that cannot be cured, for example, and in order to be healed performs a ritual involving a prosecution and a defense, a judge andwitnesses. Divine beings then speak through orac...

William S. Sax is Head of the Department of Ethnology at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg. Helene Basu is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Munster.

other books by William S. Sax

Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:December 8, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190275758

ISBN - 13:9780190275754

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Table of Contents

1. William S. Sax and Helene Basu: The Law of Possession: Ritual, Healing, and the Secular State2. Helene Basu: In the Courtroom of Jungle Saints: The Poor and Transcendental Justice3. Arne S. Steinforth: Between Shrine and Courtroom: Legal Pluralism, Witchcraft, and Spirit Agency in South-Eastern Africa4. Dominic Steavu: Delocalizing Illness: Healing and the State in Chinese Medicine5. Bhargavi Davar: Justice in Erwadi: A Case Study6. Johannes Quack: Possession and the Anti-Superstition Law in Maharashtra: An Actors' Perspective on Modernization and Disenchantment7. Ferdinand Okwaro: "If your brother wants to kill you, kill him first": Healing, Law, and Social Justice in an African Healer's Courtroom8. Aditya Malik: The Darbar of Goludev: Possession, Petitions, and Modernity9. William S. Sax: Gods of JusticeIndex