Interview: Ana Maria Vinea and ‘Between the Psyche and the Soul’

Street vendor selling amulets (blue, at top) of the type targeted by Quranic healers. Courtesy interviewee.

Ana Maria Vinea is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. In 2010 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Between the Psyche and the Soul: Mental Disorders, Quranic Healing and Psychiatry in Contemporary Egypt,’ supervised by Dr. Talal Asad. For this installment of the WGF blog interview, we’ll take a step into the world of Quranic healing and Vinea’s work tracing the boundaries of and treatments for ‘mental disorder’ in contemporary Cairo.


I’d like to start with some scene-setting. What is Quranic Healing, and what other kinds of healing practices does it share space with in contemporary Egypt?

Quranic healing—in Egyptian Arabic, al-‘alag bi-l-Qur’an, which translates literally as therapy or treatment with the Quran—is a popular healing method in contemporary Egypt, which, as the name indicates, centers on the Quran as the main therapeutic tool. In grounding their practices, Quranic healers draw on centuries-long traditions of using the Quran for healing, alongside other methods, all the while reworking and systematizing them in new forms. Quranic healers, as many Egyptians, are convinced that the Quran, as the Word of God, can cure any disease including physical and mental ones. In their daily practice however, they concentrate on a restricted number of afflictions, deferring for the others to physicians and psychiatrists. These afflictions are jinn possession (mass), black magic (sir), and the evil eye (asad), with the first two being considered the most widespread and serious ones. Both these afflictions presuppose the ability of jinn—a type of sentient, invisible creatures whose creation by God from fire is mentioned in the Quran—to harm humans, either directly, by entering their body and possessing them, or indirectly, from the outside.


NYAS @ Wenner-Gren: February 25th

The 2013 Anthropology Section Lecture Series continues next Monday, February 25th, when we welcome Norma Mendoza-Denton of the University of Arizona to our offices to discuss her work on American town-hall meetings in Citizen Rage: Town Hall Meetings and Constituent Disagreement in American Politics.

This presentation explores the various incarnations of the public sphere in Town Hall meetings conducted across the United States, including several conducted in Tucson, Arizona, where I have been collecting data on the political public sphere since 2000-2001. I focus on conflict talk, and examine several ways in which political figures handle public conflict and/or confrontations with constituents. Here I examine as a mini-corpus three different instances of naturally-occurring conflict-talk: one from a demonstration in Tucson, Arizona during a Town Hall meeting in 2000 by then-congressman Jim Kolbe, the predecessor to Gabrielle Giffords’ seat; one from a public meeting held in 2001 by Rudolph Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, with public transportation workers; and finally a town hall meeting held by Congresswoman Giffords in Sierra Vista, Arizona in 2009.  I note the interactional dynamics and shape of disagreements as issued by constituents and pay close attention to the responses of politicians in handling confrontation. Interactional management in these instances includes not only the issuing of speech routines such as “calm down,” (paradoxically further inflaming recipients) but also other aspects of the management of face-to-face interaction such as gaze withdrawal and gestural ambiguity.

Dr. Mendoza-Denton’s talk will be followed by a discussion by CUNY’s Jeff Maskovsky. The 7:00 PM talk will be preceded by refreshments at 6:00 PM. It is free to attend the event, but registration is required.

Edmore Chitukutuku is the 2013 Wadsworth African Fellow!

Each year, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awards the Wadsworth African Fellowship to an African student to receive a international-level anthropological education at a South African university. We would like to extend our congratulations to the recipient of the 2013 fellowship, Edmore Chitukutuku of Zimbabwe, who will be pursuing a doctoral degree at Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand. Today we welcome Edmore as a guest-blogger to tell us a little more about his background and his future in anthropology.

I was born in Bindura, Zimbabwe in 1981. I hold a Bachelor of Social Science degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Great Zimbabwe University (2007) and a B.A. Honours (2011) and M.A. (2013) from Witwatersrand. I have worked for an international organization CARE INTERANTIONAL as a humanitarian field officer, Assistant Lecturer at the Great Zimbabwe University. I have been a Sessional lecturer in the department of Anthropology at The University of Witwatersrand in 2011 as well as in the International Human Rights Exchange Programme department in 2012.

My research interests are in understanding political violence as a complex social phenomenon in society. I am also interested in healing and reconciliation in the aftermath of political conflicts. My Honours, and Masters research have tried to make sense of political violence in rural Zimbabwe through understanding rural life and livelihoods. My Ph.D. research will continue to understand youth militia violence in rural Zimbabwe.

The University of Witwatersrand has been a university of choice to me because of the diversity it offers in anthropology. Wits University’s anthropology department has accomplished academics and researchers who have helped me to understand why anthropologists ask the questions they do and to get the interrelations of our scholarship with the questions that we face every day as citizens and as members of organizations and communities. This environment has further enhanced my genuine interest in thinking about the terms in which we can understand the organization of social and political life. The wits anthropology department hosts a colloquia presentation seminar every week where they invite scholars from all over the world to present and debate in emerging research and academic issues around the globe. The seminar offers a brilliant academic engagement forum that refreshes and enlightens our understanding of social phenomenon.

Congratulations to you, Edmore! To learn more about this program, visit our Programs page.

Inside Current Anthropology: Is Poverty in Our Genes?

The February issue of Current Anthropology is out now, and is already making waves with this CA Forum on Public Anthropology piece, “Is Poverty in Our Genes?” Read a preview below and then visit JSTOR to view the entire article for free.

The authors of a new Current Anthropology forum paper refute the findings of a forthcoming paper by Ashraf and Galor in the American Economic Review. In their study, Ashraf and Galor argue that there are strong links between population genetic diversity and the per-capita income of nation states, even after accounting for factors like geography and land productivity. They further contend that the United States, Europe, and Asia are affluent because they have optimal genetic diversity, while developing nations in Africa and the Americas are impoverished because they have either too much or too little genetic diversity.

Ashraf and Galor have attempted to use human genetic data to contend that the level of diversity present in a population as humans spread out and peopled the world has caused long-lasting effects on economic development. They claim that high genetic diversity (common in African populations) increases the incidence of distrust and conflict, which causes social instability and lower productivity. In addition, they argue that populations that are relatively genetically homogeneous (such as Native Americans) are at an economic disadvantage because genetic diversity increases competition and thus innovation. Ashraf and Galor arrive at the controversial conclusion that colonialism might have had a positive effect on development in Africa and the Americas by changing the genetic composition of the colonized territories.

The authors of the critique demonstrate that Ashraf and Galor’s analyses rely on flawed data and a naïve understanding of genetics, while also ignoring relevant findings in anthropology and related fields on the subject of human evolution, cooperation, and innovation.

In light of the fact that governments look to social science research to inform policy decisions, the authors of the critique call for social scientists in the emerging field of “genoeconomics” to adhere to a higher burden of evidence when making provocative assertions capable, among other possible consequences, of placing vulnerable populations at greater risk and reinforcing various forms of casual and institutionalized prejudice.

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.