Espiritista-as-woman, woman-as-mother: the gendering of practice in Espiritismo Cruzado
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date25/11/2020
Ghose, Alysa Erika
Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Habana, this thesis examines Espiritismo Cruzado, an African diaspora religious tradition enmeshed in the wider matrix of Cuban religiosity of African origin, or as my interlocutors call it, la religión. The practice is rooted in spirit mediation and is concerned with managing daily life via relationships with spirits of the dead (muertos). The religious traditions in la religión are highly gendered; Espiritismo Cruzado is generally associated with women and femininity. Espiritismo Cruzado is gendered in relation to the other practices in the matrix. This thesis shows what such gendering tells us about navigating religiosity and sheds light on practitioners’ relationships with historical imaginaries that contribute to identities surrounding Cubanness. This thesis draws broadly from literature on the anthropology of gender, sexuality and the anthropology of religion. I pay special attention to the anthropology of ‘Afro-Cuban’ religion and Latin American, Caribbean and Cuban examinations of gender and sexuality. My thesis intervenes as a close-grained ethnographic exploration of Espiritismo Cruzado, taking seriously both the spirit and practitioner relationships located in a socio-historic context and my interlocutors’ practical concerns of getting by. As compared to work on other traditions in la religión, Espiritismo Cruzado is less explored. Works that engage questions of African diaspora religious traditions and gender, sexuality, and race often emphasise the fluidity of these categories. This thesis also addresses how practices might solidify them. Further, while understanding dynamics of self or person are important, my interlocutors’ concerns highlighted topics like the precarity of their financial situations, relationships and family troubles, and insecurities about beauty or sexuality, all of which were underlined by wider issues of race and gender. I propose that ideas of woman-as-mother and what I characterise as acts of mothering play a key role Espiritismo Cruzado, contributing to the practice’s gendering as feminine. This thesis highlights the way that spirit and practitioner relationships generate tensions surrounding sexuality and gender via uses of the body. I argue this is due to an analogy between women’s reproductive and procreative capacities and their spiritual and creative capabilities. I suggest that knowledge production in Espiritismo Cruzado is heavily centred around feeling-as-knowing. Practitioners’ emotional states are regarded as indicative of authoritative knowledge coming from spirits. My thesis offers insight into how spirits influence the ways people engage gendered and racialised lived realities. My thesis illuminates how creative, embodied knowledge production through modes like trance and sensitivity informs economic precarity, race, sexuality and gender. I focus on communal dynamics that open up space for the continuous cultivation of practitioners’ spirituality. I emphasise resolver— dealing with every day, pragmatic concerns—as at the forefront of Espiritismo Cruzado. I show how through Espiritismo Cruzado practice and resolver, certain norms regarding broader understandings of racial imaginaries and gender and sexuality are productively challenged and sometimes reinforced. I ask what interconnected gendering and racializing means for women’s lived experience but also consider how men navigate their religiosity in relation to Espiritismo Cruzado’s gendered codings. Given that some technologies of spiritual communication are relegated to the feminine, the thesis details how practitioners negotiate femininity and masculinity, paying close attention to how this is different for women, the majority of practitioners, and men, the minority.