More Things in Heaven and Earth: Spirit Possession, Mental Disorder, and Intentionality

Journal of Medical Humanities 41 (3):363-378 (2020)
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Spirit possession is a common phenomenon around the world in which a non-corporeal agent is involved with a human host. This manifests in a range of maladies or in displacement of the host's agency and identity. Prompted by engagement with the phenomenon in Egypt, this paper draws connections between spirit possession, and the concepts of personhood and intentionality. It employs these concepts to articulate spirit possession, while also developing the intentional stance as formulated by Daniel Dennett. It argues for an understanding of spirit possession as the spirit stance: an intentional strategy that aims at predicting and explaining behaviour by ascribing to an agent beliefs and desires, but is only deployed once the mental states and activity of the subject fail specific normative distinctions. Applied to behaviours which are generally taken to signal mental disorder, the spirit stance preserves a peculiar form of intentionality where behaviour would otherwise be explained as a consequence of a malfunctioning physical mechanism. Centuries before the modern disciplines of psychoanalysis and phenomenological-psychopathology endeavoured to restore meaning to 'madness', the social institution of spirit possession had been preserving the intentionality of socially deviant behaviour.



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Mohammed Rashed
Birkbeck College

Citations of this work

A Neuro-Yogācāra Manifesto.Bryce Huebner - 2023 - Res Philosophica 100 (1):63-91.
Belief in Jinn Possession Scale: Development and validation.Nida Falak Naz & Naeem Aslam - 2024 - Archive for the Psychology of Religion 46 (1):88-105.

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References found in this work

Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology.Daniel C. Dennett (ed.) - 1978 - Cambridge, Massachusetts: Bradford Books.
A category of the human mind.Marcel Mauss - 1985 - In Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins & Steven Lukes (eds.), The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1--25.
A Category of the Mind.Marcel Mauss - 1985 - In Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins & Steven Lukes (eds.), The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge University Press.

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