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Cosmos, Gods and Madmen

Cosmos, Gods and Madmen

Roland Littlewood | Rebecca Lynch


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The social anthropology of sickness and health has always been concerned with religious cosmologies: how societies make sense of such issues as prediction and control of misfortune and fate; the malevolence of others; the benevolence (or otherwise) of the mystical world; local understanding and explanations of the natural and ultra-human worlds. This volume presents differing categorizations and conflicts that occur as people seek to make sense of suffering and their experiences. Cosmologies, whether incorporating the divine or as purely secular, lead us to interpret human action and the human constitution, its ills and its healing and, in particular, ways which determine and limit our very possibilities.

Roland Littlewood is Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry at UCL. He is a former president of the RAI and has undertaken fieldwork in Trinidad, Haiti, Lebanon, Italy and Albania, and has published eight books and around 200 papers.

Rebecca Lynch is an Assistant Professor in Medical Anthropology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). She has conducted fieldwork in Trinidad and the UK. Taking an approach that crosses the intersection between religion and medicine, she has published on socio-cultural, moral, and scientific constructions of the body, health and illness, and on bodily interaction with the non-human through technology, protocols, bodily fluids, and spirit agents.

“The essays in Cosmos, Gods, and Madmen range over a wide array of topics across multiple geographic areas… Not all of the chapters touch on all three of the terms in the book’s title, but they all contain important and fascinating ethnographic material and make some useful theoretical and methodological recommendations. It will not be news to any anthropologists that religion and supernatural agency is frequently implicated in the diagnosis and cure of illness, mental or otherwise, but the case studies are a welcome addition to the literature on medical anthropology and the anthropology of religion.” • Anthropology Review Database

““Despite high levels of unpredictability and uncertainty, and in some instances even the failure of miracles, what is most striking is the universal and powerful incentive and motivation behind this search. In terms of the book’s wider contribution, it provides an effective and timely response to the current comparative biomedical focus within medical anthropology, by reconnecting with its social origins.” • Anthropology & Medicine

“The introduction to this book is very well-written and lays out the topic and scope clearly… The chapters have been collected carefully and offer much to the study of religion and healing” • Stefan Ecks, University of Edinburgh

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Title Page iii
Copyright Page iv
Table of Contents v
Acknowledgements vi
Introduction 1
Chapter 1. Why Animism Matters 9
Chapter 2. Spreading the Gospel of the Miracle Cure 25
Chapter 3. Madness and Miracles 45
Chapter 4. 'Sakawa' Rumours 67
Chapter 5. To Heal the Body 93
Chapter 6. Addiction and the Duality of the Self in a North American Religio-Therapeutic Community 116
Chapter 7. Religious Conversion and Madness 133
Chapter 8. Cosmologies of Fear 154
Chapter 9. Functionalists and Zombis 176
Chapter 10. Religion and Psychosis 191
Index 211