Dr. Michal Pagis, Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Michal Pagis is an associate professor of sociology at Bar Ilan University, Israel. She holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago. Dr. Pagis studies the growing popularity of techniques of self-transformation in contemporary post-industrial culture and the connection between spirituality and popular psychology. Her current projects include the modern practice of Buddhist meditation, spiritual care providers in the Israeli health system, the spiritualization of clinical psychological therapy and the spread of life-coaching both in the secular sphere and in the Ultraorthodox Jewish society in Israel. Her published papers have appeared in journals such as Social Psychology Quarterly, Work and Occupations, Qualitative Sociology and Sociology of Religion. She is the author of "Inward: Vipassana Meditation and the Embodiment of the Self," published by the University of Chicago Press.
Dr. Andrea de Antoni, Kyoto University, Japan
Andrea De Antoni is program-specific associate professor of socio-cultural anthropology at Kyoto University (Japan). He specialized in the anthropology of Japan and, more recently, he has carried out ethnographic research also in Italy. His research investigates experiences with spirits, with a focus on bodily perceptions and affect. While keeping this main focus, he has analyzed the perception of religious places, hauntings, processes of construction of memory, and outcaste discrimination in contemporary Japan. His present research examines spirit possession and exorcism in contemporary Japan and Italy from a comparative perspective. He has published extensively on these topics in English and Japanese. He is the author of Going to Hell in Contemporary Japan: Feeling Landscapes of the Afterlife, Othering, Memory and Materiality (Routledge, forthcoming), and editor of several books and special issues of academic journals.
Spirits in the Material World
An Anthropology of Religious Healing, Affective Affordances and Affective Technologies
In this talk I propose some methodological reflections, to understand experiences of religious healing from the perspective of socio-cultural anthropology, with a focus on spirit possession. While relying on ethnographic data gathered through fieldwork in contemporary Japan and Italy, I suggest that a focus on how spirits emerge through possession and their becomings offers a useful path to comparison and argue for a more emergent and practice-based approach to spirit entities. I suggest a focus on the body moving-in-the-world or, as I prefer, ‘feeling with’ the world, as central to understand how spirit beings emerge through practice and how such emergence can relate to experiences of healing. In this lecture, I focus especially on two ideas. The first, ‘affective affordances,’ indicates material affordances that, in the interaction with enskilled bodies, can elicit the particular feelings through which spirit perceptions and realities emerge. The second, ‘affective technologies,’ points at configurations of practices, actions, or processes that elicit and allow the emergence of specific feelings by opening possibilities for encounters between lived, perceiving bodies and certain affordances. I argue that an analysis of experiences with spirits through this focus on situated bodies ‘feeling with’ human and non-human actors through practice, can be useful for a novel understanding of spirit emergence and ontogenesis, spirit possession and religious healing.
Dr. Radek Kundt, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
I am assistant professor at the Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, where I also act as director of LEVYNA – Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion and executive board member of HUME Lab – Laboratory for Experimental Humanities. Employing evolutionary models, I study religious behaviour in terms of intragroup cooperation and treat ritual as a communication technology. I argue that ritual behaviour evolved to afford group coordination harnessing the commitment signalling to enhance mutual trust and to identify free-riding individuals. Combining methods from experimental anthropology and experimental psychology, I conducted research on effects of religious priming on prosocial and moral behaviour. I have several years of laboratory and field research experience in Mauritius and Czech Republic.
Effects of extreme ritual on physiological and psychological health
Extreme rituals that involve bodily mutilation entail significant physiological (e.g., injury, infection) and psychological (e.g., distress, trauma) risks, yet practitioners often claim that they convey health benefits. Tackling the evolutionary puzzle of extreme rituals and their potential fitness benefits, this talk will report the results from a collaborative investigation of health outcomes of participation in the Kavadi performed by Tamils in Mauritius. Combining ethnographic observations and psychophysiological measurements over a two-month period, we monitored physiological responses of ritual participants and a control group and obtained assessments of perceived health and quality of life. Compared to a control group, performance of this demanding ordeal had no detrimental effects on physiological health but was associated with improvements in psychological well-being. Furthermore, individuals who reported chronic health problems sought more painful levels of engagement which were associated with greater improvements in psychological well-being. We suggest several bottom-up and top-down mechanisms facilitating these effects including self-signaling (i.e., effects of past experience in undertaking pain on the future health self-evaluation) and placebo (i.e., effects of cultural expectations in the ritual healing power).