Other Worlds, Other Bodies?
Ethnography, Experience and Epistemological Embodiment


16th European Association of Social Anthropologists Biennial Conference 2020
ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon and ICS-Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon

21-24 July 2020 - Online Conference

Convenors: Emily Pierini (Sapienza University of Rome) and Alberto Groisman (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina) 

Chair and discussant: Diana Espírito Santo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

When ethnographers approach the plurality of spiritual manifestations and experiences of the people who participate in their research, they often note that these people recognise the existence of other worlds that may intersect or not with the so-called material or physical world. However, these other worlds are often approached as phenomena of 'culture' or the 'mind', questioning in this way these native ontologies. Many ethnographers end up reifying these experiences as 'symbolic'. The projection of personal experience onto a symbolic dimension may be the outcome of a resistance to embodying 'mysticism' in their lives or professional trajectories, which is a 'rationalist' way of approaching these other worlds from the standpoint of a science that seeks an epistemic homogeneity. A symptom of this resistance to 'mediumistic incorporation' and more generally to a phenomenon considered to be spiritual, are spiritual experiences categorised as 'paranormal'. Beyond being an ethnographic and methodological inconsistency, approaching the 'spiritual' as 'paranormal' reflects an epistemological resistance to recognising ontological multiplicity as a condition for ethnographic knowledge. This panel discusses how researchers may find ways to legitimately express their own experiences of embodiment in the 'academic field'—reflecting in particular upon 'epistemological embodiment', or how these experiences may impact their conceptions of science and knowledge and how they are produced. These reflections can make the dialogues and coexistence between researchers and their research participants more fluid, fruitful and symmetrical, as well as they may inform ethnographies able to tackle spiritual experiences which problematize conventionalisms and homogeneities.



Alberto Groisman, Emily Pierini 

Snakes and ladders: renegotiating bodily experience and hierarchy in Afro-Brazilian Candomblé
Giovanna Capponi, Musée du quai Branly

Drawing upon personal and comparative ethnographic data in the context of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, this paper will discuss the challenges and dynamics of renegotiating one's bodily involvement and positioning through and with different ontological worlds.


Aesthetics of mediumship in Brazilian Spiritist healthcare
Helmar Kurz, University Muenster

The paper discusses sensory aspects of mediumship in Brazilian Spiritist healing settings and explores the involvement of the ethnographer. It reflects how far sensory perception does not only serve as a focus of anthropological investigation but also as an insightful ethnographic technique.


Materializing spiritual experiences: Mediumistic ways of knowing in Brazil
Emily Pierini, Sapienza University of Rome

This paper addresses the entanglements between tangible and intangible worlds in learning spirit mediumship in the Vale do Amanhecer. Moving beyond propositional knowledge it embraces the dimension of feeling and affection in which also the ethnographer is engaged in learning a way of knowing.


Steps to an ecology of spirits: Doing ethnography about spirits and possession in contemporary Japan as a practice of feeling with the world
Andrea De Antoni, Ritsumeikan University

In this presentation, I focus on experiences with spirits in contemporary Japan, including my own. I argue that a focus on feelings emerging through correspondences with certain environments can create legitimate ways to analyze and express people's (including researchers') experiences with spirits. 


Sound and the body-mind-environment axionomy: The substrate of intercorporeality
Bernd Brabec de Mori, University of Graz
Yvonne Schaffler, University of Vienna

In ethnographies around the globe, sound is described as a prerequisite for ritual action. Based on examples from the Amazon and the Caribbean we propose that sound, as a medium for intercorporeal and interaffective experience, can aid in bridging epistemological incommensurabilities.


An ethnographic encounter with 'transreligiosity': Embodying spirituality, resisting epistemology
Eugenia Roussou, CRIA-IUL

Based on long-term fieldwork with a Greek spiritual healer, this paper explores how the 'transreligious' experiences of the anthropologist leads to epistemological challenges with regard to ethnographic knowledge and intense encounters with the spiritual cosmos in the field.


The "transreligious" confluences and coincidences of Afro-Cuban religiosity and the anthropologist's personal "crisis"
Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, CRIA-Universidade Nova de Lisboa

I compare Afro-Cuban religiosity and an auto-ethnography in "crisis". I had been advised that the former was linked to the latter, but I only discovered it later and precisely through my research. I explore the term "transreligiosity" so as to account for these confluences and other transgressions.


Epistemologies of chronic pain: Understanding the unseen in a Tamang village in Nepal
Paula Bronson, UCL

This paper recounts my recent fieldwork experiences of the everyday unseen worlds in a Tamang village in Nepal. I reflect on my acceptance of these spaces in my interactions with the local traditional healers and those they help with long term pain.

Diana Espírito Santo, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile