Therapy Across the Line: Goddess ‘Manifestation’ in an Indo-Caribbean Hindu Temple in Brooklyn

James Reich and Drew Thomases follow a manifestation of the mother goddess into new ways of thinking about the anthropology of religion. Continue Reading →

In the News: Saints, Slavery, Celibacy, and more!

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

How to Make a Zombie

by Nora Connor

In its October issue, Harper’s* revisits the zombie phenomenon–the Haitian kind, that is, not the George Romero kind.  Which, come to think of it, makes it a bit of a strange Halloween selection. Journalist Hamilton Morris did his reporting pre-earthquake; the social feature most representative of Haiti’s practical difficulties is an excess of burning plastic garbage, a result of dysfunctional or nonexistent collection. It’s as if Harper’s were running a time capsule piece, giving us a brief glimpse of pre-Year Zero Haiti.

Morris’s piece is also an exercise in the policing of genre boundaries within academic and journalistic endeavors. At least since the mid-1980s, when anthropologist/ethnobotanist Wade Davis published The Serpent and the Rainbow, where there are Haitian Zombies, there are drugs. Davis took the social fact of zombification as a given and attempted to identify the chemical element in the sorcerers’ powder that makes the process, understood as magical or supernatural, “scientifically” possible. He may or may not have found it—TTX, a toxin from the organs of puffer fish that causes temporary paralysis—and gained no small amount of notoriety in the meantime. Scientists jumped on his science, anthropologists shredded his anthropology, historians disputed his history.

Davis was accused of violating the ethical standards of a number of disciplines: he paid for his drug samples, did not report the results of tests unfavorable to his preferred conclusions, participated in (enabled by his presence?) the exhuming of a child’s body, and by some lights amplified a racist narrative of Haitians as primitive and superstitious. Continue Reading →

Remembering Differently: Coping with 9/11 Fatigue

by Jeremy F. Walton

9/11 fatigue is a fully comprehensible, affective response to the cadences of nationalism that have accompanied public commemoration of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. But this fatigue should not constitute the alibi for indifference, solipsism, or cynicism.

Several weeks after September 11, 2001, I participated in what was surely a frequent sort of event at the time:  a hastily organized panel of academic experts summoned to reflect upon the radical political upheavals of the recent weeks.  This particular panel occurred at the University of Chicago, where I was then a second-year graduate student in Anthropology; the first speaker was the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, an early mentor of mine.  Rolph, as we affectionately called him, struck a dramatic note:  “A pillar of impenetrable, black smoke in the firmament.  The echo of jet engines above, weapons of war.  On all sides: death.”  He went on to describe the brutal and tragic events of September 11, but not the September 11 that we had gathered to reckon—his own narrative was set in Santiago, on September 11, 1973, the date of the coup d’état that constituted the bloody birth pangs of Augusto Pinochet’s military junta in Chile.  Rolph’s rhetorical and political point was as sharp as his description was vivid:  Already, in a mere two weeks, the meaning and collective memory of “September 11” had come to exclude everything other than the national trauma of the United States. To this day, I continue to wonder how Chileans interpret and experience each anniversary of September 11 (and note that September 11 can now only exist as an anniversary), especially if they happen to find themselves in the United States at the time. Continue Reading →