UWTSD Professor launches Insight into the religious landscape of Brazil


Professor Bettina Schmidt, a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) has recently published a new book entitled Spirit and Trance in Brazil - an anthropological study of religious experience, linking theoretical debate with empirical research in São Paulo.

The book presents an insight into the religious landscape of Brazil with special focus on race, gender and social structure. It combines theoretical discussions around ecstatic religions with ethnographic insights, based on an empirical research carried out in São Paulo and other cities of Brazil.

Spirit and Trance in Brazil is a unique publication that crosses the boundary between anthropology and religious studies.  It presents an anthropological study of religious experience linking the theoretical debate on the study of experience deemed religious with fieldwork carried out in Brazil.

“For my fieldwork I went to São Paulo, one of the largest cities in Latin America. I interviewed people of different faith and observed ceremonies of a range of religious communities, some with African background, some Christian communities and some Spiritist centres,” says Professor Schmidt. “It was a very exciting time and I am delighted to present in this book my insight into a fascinating religious landscape.”

As well as being a professor of Religious Studies, Bettina Schmidt is also a cultural anthropologist as well as being the Director of the Religious Experience Research Centre, linked to the Alister Hardy Trust.  Professor Schmidt has published extensively on Caribbean and Latin American religions, identity, cultural theories and migration and her academic interests include the anthropology of religion, diaspora identity, religious experience, medical anthropology and gender issues.

Professor Schmidt’s new publication focuses on the experiences usually classified under the label spirit possession, a highly contested and challenged term. It is based on ethnographic research conducted in São Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in Brazil and home to a range of religions which practice spirit possession.

The research focuses on spirit possession in Afro-Brazilian religions and Spiritism but it also discusses the notion of exorcism in Charismatic Christian communities. The book is enriched by excerpts from interviews with people about their experience. By focusing on the way people relate to their experience the book aims to embrace local features of the practice and therefore to ‘provincialize’ spirit possession.

“From beginning to end, Spirits and Trance in Brazil shifts the cutting edge of studies of religions and cultures onwards in exciting directions,” says Graham Harvey, Professor of Religious Studies at The Open University.

“It greatly improves engagement with the key words of recent scholarship, especially those associated with “turns”. In particular, it does so by focusing on them together rather than separately. It is, then, a book about more than spirit trances, it is also expert about corporeality, ontology, ritual, cognition, gender, experience, theory, method, charisma, agency, hierarchy and more," continues Professor Harvey.

Spirits and Trance in Brazil is divided into three sections which presents the three main areas in the study of spirit possession.

The first section looks at the social dimension of spirit possession, in particular gender roles associated with spirit possession in Brazil and racial stratification of the communities. It shows how gender roles and racial composition have adapted alongside changes in society in the last hundred years.

The book’s second section shifts to the way people interpret their practice. It shows that the interpretations of this practice depend on the human relationship to the possessing entities.

The third section moves then into a relatively new field of research, the Western discourse of mind/body dualism and the wide field of cognition and embodiment. All sections together confirm the significance of discussing spirit possession within a wider framework that embraces physical elements as well as cultural and social ones.

Spirit and Trance in Brazil will be launched during an event that will take place in the Founders’ Library at UWTSD’s Lampeter campus on Wednesday, October 19th at 5pm  If you are interested in the event, please contact Liann Parker by emailing L.Parker@uwtsd.ac.uk or by calling  01570 424951 by Tuesday, October 11th.

Spirits and Trance in Brazil is published by Bloomsbury and is available via the publisher’s website: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk  

If you’d like to her Professor Schmidt discuss her new book, please listen to her interview on You Tube:  https://youtu.be/PIFlITX_0m8

Further Information

  1. For further information, please contact Sian-Elin Davies, Principal Communications and PR Officer on 01267 676908 / 07449 998476 / sian-elin.davies@uwtsd.ac.uk