A View from within: Spirit Possession in a Healing Centre in Maharashtra, India

By:
R. Shubha,
Dr. Tanmay Bhattacharya,
Dr. D Parthasarathy,
Dr. Meenakshi Gupta
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The discourse on spirit possession is dominated by biomedical, functionalist and performance theories that have been criticized for reducing possession to categories of biology, psychology, society, and culture. Here, a phenomenological approach, combining psychological and anthropological methods is used to understand the experience, perception and construction of possession. The study is situated in a shrine well-known for healing psychological and spirit afflictions. Participant and non-participant observation, local literature, and semi-structured interviews with supplicants, caregivers, priests, healers and mental health professionals were used.

The study brought out that supplicants and caregivers were predominantly from lower castes and lower socioeconomic strata. They saw no stigma attached to possession, did not view it as a mental illness, and often sought help simultaneously from doctors and healers. Most professionals were not open to collaboration with healers and had a stereotyped view of possession as a mental illness with flamboyant features.

Notably, spirit possession was not experienced as a distinct phenomenon with specific symptoms but was used by people to make sense of their problems. Further, trance experienced outside the shrine was constructed differently from that encountered within, illustrating the complex relation between trance and possession. This suggests that possession is better seen as an explanatory model, an idiom through which people articulate distress.


Keywords: Ethnophenomenology, Sufi Dargahs, Healing Temples, Trance, Explanatory Model, Spirit Possession
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


R. Shubha

Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

I am a research scholar in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. My doctoral research centers on spirit possession in the Indian context where I explore how spirit possession is experienced by individuals and families accessing healing shrines. I am also studying the understanding of possession by priests, healers and mental health professionals. My study covers both Hindu healing temples and Muslim shrines (sufi dargahs) in the state of Maharashtra in India. My areas of interest are: cultural aspects of mental illness and psychotherapy, cultural psychology, sociology of mental illness, psychological anthropology, altered states of consciousness, trance and healing, and death and dying issues. I am also very interested in the school of Process-Oriented Psychology founded by Arnold Mindell – its philosophy, practice and applications to diverse areas such as conflict resolution, physical illnesses, coma work, psychotherapy, and so on.

Dr. Tanmay Bhattacharya

Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


Dr. D Parthasarathy

Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Research Interests: Sociology of agriculture, Sustainable development , Ethnic conflicts

Dr. Meenakshi Gupta

Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Research Interests: Applied Social Psychology, Organisational Behaviour, Human Resource Management

Ref: I07P0534