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Learning Possession Trance and Evaluating Oracles’ Truthfulness in Jinè Cults of Bèlèdugu (Mali)

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AbstractIn Mali, during the 1980s Islamization of Bèlèdugu, the local dismantling of secret societies has been followed by an increase of spirit possession cults (jinèton). Their expansion was made possible by their therapeutic success and by their ability to use their initiatory worship apparatus to convert novice “possessees” to a form of relationship with the jinn that was experienced and understood according to the “possession trance” and “executive possession” models. This text describes and analyses how afflicted villagers acquired the singular ability to experience the relinquishing of their own agency and the concomitant take-over of their body by this kind of invisible agent. It argues that these learning processes rely on the prior existence of a type of declarative and procedural religious knowledge regarding other ritualised forms of possession practised in the region. Moreover, it claims that these learning processes consist in the double triggering of an intuitive mind-body dualism and of neurocognitive modules connected to the Theory of Mind.

Affiliations: 1: Research and Teaching Department, Musée du quai Branly 37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris France, URL:


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