Embodied Encounters: Ethnographic Knowledge, Emotion and Senses in the Vale do Amanhecer’s Spirit Mediumship

Emily Pierini


This article examines the question of the researcher’s bodily experience in the production of ethnographic knowledge, discussing fieldwork in the Brazilian Spiritualists Christian Order Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn). Focussing on spirit mediumship, it proposes a twofold analysis discerning local categories from those widely in use in other spiritual contexts and in the scholarly debates, and considering how they are articulated and lived through. Hence, it tackles questions such as how do mediums learn their practice? How do they discern between different categories of spirits? How does mediumistic experience inform notions of the body and the self? In doing so, it shifts the focus from belief to experience, including that of the researcher, as part of the ethnographic encounter. The process of learning spirit mediumship is hereby approached considering the cultivation of a mediumistic body as an intersubjective process of development of a specific mode of knowing, exploring how the cognitive, bodily and affective dimensions interweave. This kind of analysis demands a peculiar reflexive attention to the ethnographer’s re-education of perception as a way of becoming skilled in local ways of knowing and communicating, producing common grounds of interaction in the field.


Vale do Amanhecer; spirit mediumship; learning; body; emotions; senses; ethnographic knowledge

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