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Ritual Theory and Attitudes to Agency in Brazilian Spirit Possession

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This article works with theory of ritual in order to begin addressing a series of questions raised by Brazilian spirit possession rituals (in Kardecism and Umbanda). Four contributions to theory of ritual highlight relevant conceptual issues: Humphrey and Laidlaw on non-intentionality; Bloch on deference; Houseman and Severi on social relations; and Kapferer on virtuality. Strawson’s philosophical distinction between objective and reactive attitudes toward intentionality is used to make a case (i) that certain formal aspects of ritual (indexicals) serve to (ii) mark culturally-variable attitudes to agency within rituals, which are related to, but fundamentally distinct from, non-ritual attitudes to agency.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Humanities, Mount Royal College, Email:


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