Spirits and Social Agency


Spirits occupy a world that simultaneously dwells between the divine and the earthly binary, while speaking to all forces of nature, marginality and extremity in between. A discussion on spirits requires examining the rituals and mediational forces and their performance that allow participants to tackle adversity, voicelessness in the face of colonial oppression, and political, social and economic anxiety and uncertainty. The paper links the conceptualizations, interactions with and experience of spiritual beings in relation to the concept of Self and social agency, in turn defined as a continuum of cooperation leaving those involved with an enhanced or diminished perception of self-agency. It is important to include the pre-colonial repertoire and syncretic imaginations of the spirit, such as their conceptualization in unison with sorcery and spirit possession as central to voodoo practices, neither of which were promoted by the Abrahamic religions during Western colonization, particularly in Africa. Equally important is to subscribe to the power of ritual during rites of passage and examine the interplay between the spectators’ and the performers’ in today’s virtual manifestations. A ritual not witnessed is a ritual not experienced. The streaming broadcasts of spirit possessions and performances in the social media global cosmos present human catharsis, embodied and transformed in and off-screen through ritual. The paper highlights how foundational elaborations on the nature of the spirit inform their transformative power in digital manifestations and possessions to negotiate agency in the digital era.


Sanaa Riaz
Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Religious Foundations


Spirits, Agency, Ritual, Digital conceptualizations

Digital Media

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