Thinking with Ngangas: What Afro-Cuban Ritual Can Tell Us about Scientific Practice and Vice Versa (Paperback)

Thinking with Ngangas: What Afro-Cuban Ritual Can Tell Us about Scientific Practice and Vice Versa By Stephan PalmiƩ Cover Image


A comparative investigation of Afro-Cuban ritual and Western science that aims to challenge the rationality of Western expert practices.
Inspired by the exercises of Father Lafitau, an eighteenth-century Jesuit priest and protoethnographer who compared the lives of the Iroquois to those of the ancient Greeks, Stephan Palmié embarks on a series of unusual comparative investigations of Afro-Cuban ritual and Western science. What do organ transplants have to do with ngangas, a complex assemblage of mineral, animal, and vegetal materials, including human remains, that serve as the embodiment of the spirits of the dead? How do genomics and “ancestry projects” converge with divination and oracular systems? What does it mean that Black Cubans in the United States took advantage of Edisonian technology to project the disembodied voice of a mystical entity named ecué onto the streets of Philadelphia? Can we consider Afro-Cuban spirit possession as a form of historical knowledge production?
By writing about Afro-Cuban ritual in relation to Western scientific practice, and vice versa, Palmié hopes to challenge the rationality of Western expert practices, revealing the logic that brings together enchantment and experiment.

About the Author

Stephan Palmié is the Norman and Edna Freehling Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and the author of Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition and The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Praise For…

Thinking with Ngangas is a major intellectual contribution delivered with flair, humor, and unfailing erudition. Via his ‘method of reciprocal illumination,’ Palmié offers a series of lively and richly perturbing essays offering insights into problems as diverse as the rationality debate, transplant surgery, anthropology’s ontological turn, genomic identity realization, acoustic technology, and the future of anthropology itself.”
— Janice Boddy, University of Toronto

“In this highly original and thought-provoking encounter between anthropology and philosophy, Palmié thinks with some of his most dramatic ‘finds’ from decades contemplating the ethnographic interface with Afro-Cuban religion. Playful and utterly earnest, this book will have you savoring historical ironies and rethinking anthropology’s foundational questions about cultural difference.”
— Kristina Wirtz, Western Michigan University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226825946
ISBN-10: 0226825949
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: October 10th, 2023
Pages: 288
Language: English