The University of Wisconsin Press

Anthropology / African Studies / Religion


Spirit Possession, Modernity, and Power in Africa
Edited by Heike Behrend and Ute Luig

"A valuable contribution to the literature of African religious experience."—Janice Boddy, author of Wombs & Alien Spirits

In Africa as well as in Europe, many spirits and their mediums are part of local as well as global cultures. Christian spirits named Hitler, Mussolini, or King Bruce (Bruce Lee) flourish in a pantheon of new holy spirits in Uganda waging war against the government. Spirits of airplanes, engines, guitars, and angels are found in Central Africa; and thunder, snakes, and rain as well as playboys and prostitutes inhabit the spirit world in West Africa.

Spirit possession cults have continued to proliferate, even in the secular West, and continue to be a subject of intense interest. Despite the continuous expansion of the field, some problems are only now beginning to be explored. The experts in this volume focus on questions of power, the history and inner dynamics of cults, the role of gender and images of the other, based on research conducted during the last fifteen years in Africa. The contributors document changes taking place across the continent as possession beliefs and practices respond to new circumstances and address the shifting local implications of an increasingly global socio-economy. Gender, ethnicity, and class are examined as intersecting forces and features of spirit phenomena. The case studies presented are richly contextualized: history, social organization and upheaval, alternative religious options—all are considered relevant to an understanding of possession forms.


Leslie Sharp

Heike Behrend

Adeline Masquelier

Mathias Krings

Jean-Paul Colleyn

Alexandra O. de Sousa

Susan Kenyon

Tobias Wendl

Ute Luig

Linda Giles

Heike Behrend is professor of anthropology at the Institute for African Studies, University of Cologne, Germany. Ute Luig is professor of social anthropology at the Institute for Ethnology, Free University of Berlin.

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Cover of book is dark green with a black and white photo of an African American woman.

Fall 1999

LC: 99-031300 BL
192 pp. 6 x 9 
1 photo, 1 map

Book icon Cloth $22.95 s
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