Size Matters!: The Scalability Of Modern Hunter-Gatherer Animism

Evening class

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Nurit Bird-David

Size Matters!: The Scalability Of Modern Hunter-Gatherer Animism

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 18:45

Cultural anthropology has for decades been committed to the multiculturalist tenet that all cultures should be equally approached, regardless of their population and community size. In this talk, I will highlight the unintended distortive effect of this approach when studying modern hunter-gatherers. I argue that the miniscule size of hunter-gatherer communities, shaping how they scale their world and imagine it, is a cardinal factor that should not be overlooked. I will examine the distortive effect of scale-blind studies of indigenous animistic beliefs, a long-studied topic that now enjoys much renewed interest. Key terms in the analysis of animism too often derive from large-scale modern social ontologies, as a result of which we fail to appreciate the intimate nature of interpersonal and interspecies relationships prevailing in the miniscule communities of hunter-gatherers.

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Our evening talks include discussion, are free and open to all.

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Tamara Turner

The Musical Precipitation Of Spirits, Saints, And Selves: Ritual, Music, And Trance In Algerian Popular Islam
Tuesday, July 4, 2017 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

Algerian diwan is a Sufi-inspired music ritual tradition that coalesced out of the trans-Saharan slave trade with the displacement of sub-Saharan populations in Algeria, particularly Hausa, Bambara, and Songhay ethnolinguistic groups. Under three centuries of Ottoman rule, sub-Saharan communities were heavily influenced by the local, popular religious practices and socio-political organization of Sufi brotherhoods. Consequently, diwan developed into a syncretic Afro-Maghrebi ritual practice drawing from what are often labeled 'pre-Islamic, animist, magical' ritual practices of 'black Africa' (bīlād es-sūdān) while absorbing many of the same structures of other musical traditions within popular Islam rooted in North Africa: saint veneration, trance, and ritual healing. In diwan rituals, music precipitates and structures emotional trance and spirit possession trance by 'heating' the energy ('ḥāl') of the ritual in order to 'call' the spirits to possess the bodies of hosts. My ethnographic approach arises out of this fundamental, local concept of ḥāl: a collective, affectively attuned, and nuanced social field without which trance of any kind is impossible. By fleshing out the sensorial phenomena of ḥāl and its local narrative, I examine the role of musico-ritual aesthetics to attend to physical, mental, and emotional needs of diwan adepts and to provide the means for spirits and saints to be reconciled with multiple aspects of the self and the diwan community at large.