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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/qzt6-v137

invited talk

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Psychiatrists and spirits: On the medical management of enchantment in Egypt





This panel responds to the call for a nonsecular medical anthropology that can trace “how gods, God, and godlessness are made” (Roberts 2016, 211). We bring together ethnographic work on medicine as an ambivalent and unstable mediation between objects, sites, and actors in ways that confound the categories of religion and secularity (Mol 2002; Whitmarsh 2008). Latent religious traditions inform both the secular as a historically specific concept (Asad 2003) and biomedicine as an epistemic practice that disciplines subjects under the rubrics of health and normality (Foucault 1970, 1978). Biomedicine and its claims to secularity rely on a “purification” of science from religion and politics, ascribing the former the power to represent the laws of autonomous existence (Latour 1993). Nonsecular medical anthropology, in contrast, works at the interface of anthropologies of religion, critical medical anthropology, and science and technology studies to explore how medicine operates as a constitutive, if aspirational, practice of secular modernity (Whitmarsh and Roberts 2016). Embracing this analytic, we call attention to how spaces and practices of healing rely on entangled threads of science, religion, and politics. In doing so, we take for granted neither the bifurcation of science and religion nor the singularity of the human (Chakrabarty 2000). The papers on this panel explore forms of difference and affliction•from genetics and disability to mental illness and spirit possession•that may or may not be commensurable with biomedicine. They may necessitate the presence of more-than-human actors, and they highlight tensions between different ways of inhabiting bodyminds and their parts (Hamdy 2012; Langford 2016). In doing so, we pose a range of questions. How can nonsecular medical anthropology transcend divides between biomedical and “other” ways of knowing (Langwick 2011; Zhan 2016)? What kind of translations are required to move between or within medical systems, and how do secular-religious tensions appear or disappear in the process (Asad 2018)? What happens to the presumed secular citizen/subject in nonsecular medical practice, especially in contexts marked by ongoing colonial violence, resource extraction, and unequal access to medicine (Giordano 2016; Pinto 2016)? And finally, what is the role of the anthropologist in attending to power/knowledge practices that are simultaneously medical, Godly, and bodily? Across different sites and contexts, we explore how (medical) subjects and objects are made through contingent relations that trouble dichotomies between mind/body, immaterial/material, constructed/real, and belief/knowledge. This panel addresses forms of power by working against the epistemic hierarchies of coloniality that position both science and secularism as “higher” orders of knowledge. Its participants cut across demographic lines, identity categories, and subject positions, and they occupy a range of positions within the academy. We are also committed to following and promoting accessible presentation practices and the broader ethos of accessibility that the AAA is working to foster.


Transcript English (automatic)

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