ABSTRACTS no. 18

 

CLAUDE RIVIÈRE

REACTIVATING AND REINTERPRETING MAGIC

In view of the current nomadism on the fringe or outside of instituted religions, we reflect here on how the occult is bringing a magical dimension to life, by examining the ways in which the modern world encourages us to question ourselves and to start a spiritual and ritual journey in the informal area of the sacred covered by what the religions of the Book have marginalised as magic, superstition, sorcery, devilry, shamanism. Belief in the esoteric is linked to a series of variables : place, causalities, content, current context for the search for the meaning of life. Forms of sorcery in Europe and Africa influence each other : devitalisation of satanism is a notable example, but reinterpreted in a new social environment. As for the infatuation with revisited shamanism and for healing therapy, perhaps under the guidance of a Castaneda-type guru, it appears to be mostly the result of a patchwork of sorts, and no one can predict its true outcome in the medium or long term.

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JEAN-BRUNO RENARD

ELEMENTS FOR A SOCIOLOGY OF THE PARANORMAL

At the frontier of both science and religion, the "paranormal" is a complex topic, too often neglected by sociological research. This article attempts to demonstrate that belief in the paranormal falls under different categories. Three major models can be defined : perireligious beliefs (the Devil, angels, miracles, etc.), which are linked to a strong traditionalist religious integration, parareligious beliefs (astrology, reincarnation, etc.), which are linked to an average religious integration and give rise to new religious syncretisms, and finally, parascientific beliefs (UFO's, extraterrestrials, Loch Ness monster, Abominable Snowman), which are inversely correlated to religious beliefs and practices, to which they often substitute themselves.

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ANDRÉ MARY

LINKING DEVIL AND SORCERER, AND THE RETURN OF SATAN

Prophetic churches and revival movements are participating in the "return of the devil" in today's African religious scene. Since missionaries first introduced the figure of Satan, the process of linking pagan forces to diabolic practices in fact has a long history. Our purpose here is to restore the anthropological stakes of this process by looking at how the figure of the Devil is symbolically appropriated within a Gabonese syncretic cult, the Bwiti of the Fang. The mythologisation of the rather shapeless thing known as the evus (at the basis of Bwiti sorcery) into the Prince of Darkness has led to the elaboration of an anthropology which struggles to meet the challenge represented by Christian dualism : how to be both strong and good? As for those practices which allowed one to fight against sorcery, the aim is to try to both counter the evil wrought by the adversary and to reach social reconciliation. Prophetic and Pentecostal Churches which return to practices such as exorcism and diabolical confession also strive to reconcile the process of diabolisation and the euphemisation of the accusation.

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ANNE-MARIE VUILLEMENOT

SHAMANISM IN KAZAKHSTAN : REVIVAL AND TRADITION

This article offers recent ethnographic data on the situation of shamanism in Kazakhstan. The situation differs in the city and in the countryside. While we can speak of a revival in the city, we must underline the continuing importance of the role of the shaman in the countryside. The juxtaposition of sufi and shamanistic expressions requires a redefinition of the baksy and his role. A description of two observations made in Almaty and in the steppes of the Taldykorgan reveals how strongly the Kazakh way of acting as baksy may vary. The term baksy, which respects the native categories intermingling sufism and shamanism, seems the most appropriate to delineate the Kazakh modalities in practices historically and culturally linked to shamanism.

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CONSTANT HAMÈS

MAGIC, MORALITY, AND RELIGION IN WEST AFRICAN TALISMANIC PRACTICES

Magic based on Islamic writing is currently experiencing considerable success in Western bookstores. But who can use it, and how? Using data from both West Africa and historical Islamic literature, this analysis attempts to demonstrate that the determining factor in magical activity is found in the confrontation and the intermingling of roles during the consultation between magician and client. The absence of any taboo in expressing one's needs and the exclusive search for efficiency lead to positions vis-à-vis the surrounding morality and religion characteristic of this type of magic.

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RÉGIS DERICQUEBOURG

HEALING RELIGIONS : RESEARCH PERSPECTIVES

This article outlines a research on healing religions currently in progress. After recalling how closely linked religion and health have most often been, the author points out that minority religious groups such as Antoinism, Christian Science, Scientology and "Invitation à la vie" put spiritual therapy in the forefront. In these specialised movements, he singles out a socio-religious reality which calls upon psychological modalities particular to their members.

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VALÉRIE ROCCHI

ASTRO-THERAPY : AN EXAMPLE OF PSYCHO-RELIGIOUS ALLIANCE INSIDE A SECULAR SEARCH FOR A PATH TO SALVATION

The encounter of "new therapies" with esoteric beliefs, the subject of increasing interest in recent years, has created a new type of hybrid. The "astrodrama", a meeting of astrology and psychology, will serve to illustrate these phenomena at the very frontier of religion. Why does one seek out this type of practice and how does one subscribe to them? Is using religious symbols enough to make them "potential" religions? This article attempts to answer these questions which, as the author feels, are essential ones.

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ANNE-MARIE LOSONCZY

THE SAINT AND THE CITIZEN AT THE EDGE OF TOMBS.THE POPULAR SANCTIFICATION OF THE DEAD IN URBAN COLOMBIAN CEMETERIES

The intense and continuous ritual activity in urban Colombian cemeteries in the past thirty years is a secular practice without a trace of institutionalisation or specialised officiants. It is centered on a ritual, continuous transformation of certain categories of individuals who recently died into sanctified intercessors. These figures are surrounded by cultural, iconographical, and literary practices. These are symbolic practices for repairing spatial and temporal rifts linked to migration-flight towards cities in reaction to the incessant collective violence which, for decades now, has left the countryside strewn with the non-buried and non-honoured bodies of the dead. This analysis attempts to uncover the pivotal role of such practices in transforming a diffuse collective mourning into a new type of collective memory.

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CHRISTIAN BERTAUX

THE STORY OF KOULIBALI, THE IMMORTAL, AND OF DADOUMA, THE MINYANKA GEOMANCER MARABOUT

While performing field work in Bambara or Minyanka country in Mali, any ethnographer interested in daily village life will inevitably witness the practices of soothsayers, marabouts, and «féticheurs». Now, between bush and village, mosque and police barracks, the fact is that these practices regularly call upon human sacrifice, &emdash; which is of course prohibited in Mali. The question may be asked whether ethnology can apprehend this type of phenomena. With the story of Koulibali the Immortal and of Dadouma, the Minyanka Geomancer Marabout, it is the entire classical project of the social sciences which is challenged by the sacrificial prescriptions of the Bambara and Minyanka soothsayers.

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ANDRÉ JULLIARD

GIFTS AND RELIGIOUS ATTITUDES OF HEALERS ["LEVEURS DE MAUX"] IN FRANCE (1970-1990)

A certain category of healers has found ample representation these days, notably in France. They use a secret prayer (the gift) of a medical and religious nature (catholicism) on the disease's physical symptoms. Each prayer (many of which have a written history) is a short narrative. This narrative assesses the level of energy of the disease represented as an aggressive force "of Nature" invading the body in order to eventually kill the patient. It tells of how a divine healer (Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or God) beats the healer during an encounter, which constitutes the original therapeutic act, establishing a line of healers (i.e., the successive and unknown owners of the prayer), and the legitimate right to recite the gift. It finally transmits the formula which, through words, "cleans" the individual of the disease and returns the latter to its place of origin. The praying individual disappears behind the divine healer considered as the inventor of the secret prayer.

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LOUISE LACHAPELLE

BELIEF AND WORKS OF ART

A comparison between the reasons for belief as seen today in certain theoretical reflections on art confirms that the presence of the religious is not limited here to a metaphoric use, to this type of regression towards the religious exposed by Michel de Certeau in La Faiblesse de croire. However, it is impossible to deny that it is still indicative of insufficient reflection, of a deficit in ethical thought. In the field of art, the purpose of the concept of belief is sometimes akin to a religious investment of the social order, a restoration of pragmatic belief which leaves unresolved the enigma posed by the social and meaning together.

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FRANÇOIS NAULT

"WHAT IS GOD? WHAT IS GOD?" ON A THEOLOGICAL INSISTENCE OF BERNARD DE CLAIRVAUX

"Quid sit Deus?", "What is God?", asks Bernard de Clairvaux in his On Consideration. "What is God?", he repeats. In the final section alone, which corresponds to his 5th letter to Pope Eugene III, this question appears eleven times. This article attempts to measure the impact of this insistent question and to evaluate its "desistance" effect with regards to a certain mode of thinking. It tries to delineate what is at stake, exactly, in the surprising answer it leads to, by showing how this (non)answer &emdash; which leads to constant interrogation &emdash; fits in the contemporary field of the thinkable. This article also looks at the question "what is God?", at its wording, at the conditions for its enunciation after the "death of God" and the Heideggerian criticism of onto-theology.

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GIUSEPPE A. SAMONÀ

BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS AS MORALIST

This article is built around two analytical book reviews. The author first summarizes Marianne Mahn-Lot's Las Casas moraliste (1997), in which Bartolomé de Las Casas' figure and action are presented as revealers of a great "conversion" to the Native American cause. However, a few other sources refered to by the author contribute to a more "realistic" portrait of Las Casas.

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