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“Bio-looping” and the Psychophysiological in Religious Belief and Practice: Mechanisms of Embodiment in Candomblé Trance and Possession

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Abstract

This chapter explores the processes that mediate the relationship between sociocultural experiences and bodily responses, in the context of religious devotion. Using ethnographic and psychophysiological data from a study of spirit possession (Brazilian Candomblé), I offer a close examination of interactions among enactments of roles and meanings, and bodily states of mediums. In doing so, I offer insight into the mechanisms of what anthropologists call “embodiment.” In particular, I provide a novel and accessible account of how psychophysiology is implicated in embodiment, providing evidence that embodied learning involved in trance/possession is reflected in distinct patterns of autonomic nervous system regulation among mediums. The concept of “bio-looping” is introduced to capture circular and reinforcing processes through which religious meanings and practices shape bodily experience and functioning.

Originally Published as Chapter 4 of Seligman, R. 2014 Possessing Spirits and Healing Selves: Embodiment and Transformation in an Afro-Brazilian Religion. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan. Culture, Mind, and Society Series of the Society for Psychological Anthropology. The author gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce the text.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Mediums had a mean of 4 somatic symptoms on a psychological inventory, compared to a mean of 3.3 for the other participants. This difference was significant at the p = 0.05 level when non-religious control groups were included in the analysis.

  2. 2.

    Ogãs and ekédis make an excellent comparison group because they are similar to mediums in their level of dedication to and responsibility within the religion. Their primary difference from mediums is that they do not become possessed or enter trance states.

  3. 3.

    In impedance cardiography measures resistance to electrical stimulation in the thorax caused by changes in blood volume as the heart ejects blood into the periphery. For methodological details, see Seligman (2014).

  4. 4.

    CAR scores were compared by group membership using ANOVA, and results indicate a trend in the differences between mediums and non-medium initiates: baseline CAR scores of mediums are a half a standard deviation higher than those of non-medium initiates.

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Seligman, R. (2018). “Bio-looping” and the Psychophysiological in Religious Belief and Practice: Mechanisms of Embodiment in Candomblé Trance and Possession. In: Meloni, M., Cromby, J., Fitzgerald, D., Lloyd, S. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Biology and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-52879-7_18

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-52879-7_18

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