"Spirits are the Problem": Anthropology and Conceptualising Spiritual Beings

  • Jack Hunter Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol
Keywords: Anthropology, Experience, Ontology, Spirits, Theories


This paper examines a variety of different theoretical perspectives on the nature of spiritual beings from within the discipline of anthropology. It takes a broadly historical perspective, outlining the development of key approaches from the earliest pioneers to the present day. It is argued that reductive explanatory models fail to account for the complexity of spiritual beings as social agents, especially in the context of the author's own research into contemporary trance mediumship. It is suggested that an ontologically open-minded participatory approach to the nature of spiritual beings, that emphasises the processes involved in their manifestation, represents a potentially fruitful direction for future research.

Author Biography

Jack Hunter, Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol
Jack Hunter is a PhD candidate in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol. His research takes the form of an ethnographic study of contemporary trance and physical mediumship in Bristol. In 2010 he established Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal. He is the co-editor of 'Talking With the Spirits' (2014).


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