The Mind Possessed: The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition

Hardcover | August 20, 2007

byEmma Cohen

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The cognitive science of religion has made a persuasive case for the view that a number of different psychological systems are involved in the construction and transmission of notions of extranatural agency such as deities and spirits. Until now this work has been based largely on findings inexperimental psychology, illustrated mainly with hypothetical or anecdotal examples. In The Mind Possessed, Emma Cohen considers how the psychological systems undergirding spirit concepts are activated in real-world settings. Spirit possession practices have long had a magnetizing effect on academic researchers but there have been few, if any, satisfactory theoretical treatments of spirit possession that attempt to account for its emergence and spread globally. Drawing on ethnographic data collected during eighteenmonths of fieldwork in Belem, northern Brazil, Cohen combines fine-grained descriptions and analyses of mediumistic activities in an Afro-Brazilian cult house with a scientifically-grounded explanation for the emergence and spread of ideas about spirits, possession and healing. Cohen shows why spirit possession and its associated activities are inherently attention-grabbing. Making a radical departure from traditional anthropological, medicalist and sociological analyses, she argues that a cognitive approach offers more precise and testable hypotheses concerning thespread and appeal of spirit concepts and possession activities. This timely book presents new lines of enquiry for the cognitive science of religion (a rapidly growing field of interdisciplinary scholarship) and challenges the theoretical frameworks within which spirit possession practices have traditionally been understood.

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The cognitive science of religion has made a persuasive case for the view that a number of different psychological systems are involved in the construction and transmission of notions of extranatural agency such as deities and spirits. Until now this work has been based largely on findings inexperimental psychology, illustrated mainly ...

Emma Cohen is a Researcher at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 6.3 × 9.29 × 0.98 inPublished:August 20, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195323351

ISBN - 13:9780195323351

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Table of Contents

1. Introducing Posession2. Historical and Ethnographic Setting3. The Research Community4. Describing, Interpreting, and Explaining Spirit Possession5. Medicalist, Physiological and Sociological Explanations6. Spirits as Concepts7. Observing Possession8. The Social Relevance of Spirits9. Explaining Distributions of Spirit Concepts and Spirit Possession

Editorial Reviews

"The first major ethnography of this region of Brazil in over thirty years, this book blazes a trail in applying new theories in the cognitive science of religion to a complex cultural setting. Her critique of earlier approaches to the study of spirit possession carries the weight andauthority of a new field behind it. All anthropologists and historians interested in possession phenomena should read this important new study." -- Harvey Whitehouse, Head of the School of Anthropology, Oxford University, and author of Inside the Cult