Lecture: "Possession: Stories of Spirits, Loss, and Appropriation in Nigerien Schools"
Abstract: The past decade has witnessed a proliferation of incidents of mass possession among schoolgirls in Niger. During exorcism, possessing spirits speak of homes lost when trees were cut to build schools. In the past, trees objectified relations between people and spirits. Only after securing the spirits' approval could one cut a tree; spirit veneration translated into an ecological ethos that guided the management of natural resources. In the wake of colonization, trees were cut to make way for roads and human settlements. The implementation of new agrarian practices and the promotion of Islamic law further encouraged the destruction of the spiritscape. Today spirits haunt the edge of Islam, giving voice to conflicts over moral and material spaces, their boundaries, and their histories. Professor Masqueline will focus on the landscape as an environment animated by spiritual agencies and explore how possession (as both ownership and mediumship) is a means of keeping the past alive.
Biography: Adeline Masquelier is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Tulane University. She earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010 for her work on the place of religion among young Nigerien men. Among her published works are Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town (2009), Dirt, Undress, and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body's Surface (2005), and Prayer Has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger (2001).
Free and open to the public.
This lecture is part of the Thursday Speaker Series of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies. It is made possible by a generous contribution from Kenneth and Frances Aftel Eisenberg.