Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Selfhood in Cuban Espiritismo
“Peels back the layers to explore what Spiritist practice is really about: a project of self-fashioning that challenges Western suppositions about the nature of the self, the body, and its relationship with others, living and dead.”—Kristina Wirtz, author of Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World
“This richly observed, empirically grounded ethnography is the most provocative and complete portrayal of contemporary Cuban espiritismo available. It underscores the embodied character of espiritista practices and offers a dynamic portrayal of espiritista mediums' crucial roles within a complex of Afro-Cuban religions that includes ocha, palo monte, and other faiths.”—Reinaldo L. Román, author ofGoverning Spirits: Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898–1956
“This compelling book manages the difficult task of capturing the inside feel of Cuban spiritism. To read this book is to enter into an apparently alien world and yet find that it makes complete sense, and for that reasonDeveloping the Dead is a model of the anthropological enterprise. An instant classic.”—Charles Stewart, author ofDreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece
Despite its powerful influence on Cuban culture, Espiritismo has often been overlooked by scholars.Developing the Dead is the first in-depth exploration of contemporary Espiritismo in Cuba. Based on extensive fieldwork among religious practitioners and their clients in Havana, this book makes the surprising claim that Spiritist practices are fundamentally a project of developing the self.
When mediums cultivate relationships between the living and the dead, argues Diana Espírito Santo, they develop, learn, sense, dream, and connect to multiple spirits (muertos), expanding the borders of the self. This understanding of selfhood is radically different from Enlightenment ideas of an autonomous, bounded self and holds fascinating implications for prophecy, healing, and self-consciousness.Developing the Dead shows how Espiritismo's self-making process permeates all aspects of life, not only for its own practitioners but also for those of other Afro-Cuban religions.
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