Spirit possession narratives and practices elude any singular, definitive framework. Nevertheless, possession movements have been understood as a form of resistance, involving mimetic discourses and practices that seem to parody power structures and norms. In this paper, I complicate readings of resistance through an analysis of a Hauka possession ceremony in Jean Rouch’s documentary film Les Maitres Fous, showing how this interpretive paradigm relies on a particular, provincial conception of the self. Hauka possession movements, in contrast to narratives on individual efforts at resisting power norms, involve relationships of dependence and communal membership. Importantly, this reading of dependence does not exclude expressions of individual autonomy. The individual comes to understand, negotiate, and appropriate these relationships in changing, indeterminate ways. With this in mind, I argue that Hauka possession rituals put the individual in a between space of ambiguity, involving movement within established norms and standards of practice. As such, I advocate for an approach to the study of possession that reflects the indeterminacies and uncertainties of the practices themselves.
Sallekhana was recently banned in India on the grounds of being suicide. More importantly, however, due to its existence outside of Jain tenets, the ban defined the borders of Jainism and threatens to define boundaries of all religions to existing solely within the canonized literature. Christian martyrdom theories include the recognition of power in martyrs through suffering, faith leading to proper comportment, the inclusion of theater and performance in death, and the heroic versus natural man facing death. Scholarship has stopped at comparing Jainism and Christianity, in understanding the community aspect of Jainism, the morality of sallekhanā, or its comparison to suicide; however martyrdom theories can benefit sallekhanā through new understanding of the Jain community and the importance of sallekhanā in the communal identity. By reframing sallekhanā in comportment, intention, embodiment, engenderment and suffering/pain new borders for Jainism can include a lived religion and more importantly offer a new lens to understand sallekhanā as more than an individual act.