“Methods for Interpreting the Invisible:
Historical Research on Healing, Protecting, and Harming in Africa”
In Africanist research, esoteric and healing practices have long been the domain of Anthropology. Ethnographic literature on magic, possession, and healing has explored the broader function of ritual and momentary ruptures of social order that occur during moments of witchcraft accusation, spirit possession, and healing. Some researchers have viewed the contemporary existence of magic and witchcraft as a way to confront cultural and economic crises triggered by modernity, asserting that witchcraft accusations, belief in magic, and possession rituals have intensified in a neoliberal era when corruption and fluctuations in the state of the economy are understood as extractive forces disrupting daily social life. This panel strives to argue that these moments of intensification of healing, possession or magic are not necessarily new but are often part of longer historical trajectories.
One of the principle issues facing historians who focus on the history of what Abdel Wedoud ould Cheikh has described as “the administration of the invisible” is the issue of historical sources for events and processes that often involve unseen forces. This panel, then, hopes to address questions of how historians study the roles of religious healers, traditional herbalists, ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerers’ and spirits and their influence over time. How do historians propose to avoid using only a functionalist lens and instead take healing and harming in all of their manifestations seriously? What kinds of sources do historians use? How do they understand extraordinary events and results?
We are seeking panelists for a panel at the 2012 African Studies Association meeting in Philadelphia, PA (November 29-December 1) on historical research on healing and harming practices in Africa. Please send an abstract (approx. 250 words) with contact information and institutional affiliation to Erin Pettigrew at email@example.com by March 5, 2012 to submit the complete panel by the March 15 deadline. Note: Chosen panelists must be registered members of ASA to submit their abstracts electronically.
PhD Candidate, History
PhD Candidate, History
University of California-Berkeley
Department of History
450 Serra Mall, Building 200
Stanford, CA 94305-2024 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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