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Record Type: Review   ID: 410

Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture

Hess, David J.

 In the abstract of the book by Sayer , the importance of text in social science research was noted. Hess’s book is an example of an academic text in which text as such is considered. Hess provides the following summary of his intent in the Introduction: "By using the work of Spiritist intellectuals as a case study, Spirits and Scientists provides one way of challenging the walls that many sociological and anthro-pological studies build around local systems of religion, medicine, or science as distinct "fields" or "systems"; instead, the following pages develop a methodology for the study of such systems as part of a broader, cosmopolitan ideological arena. As a result, the theoretical problem of how to understand religious syncretism, complexity, or interpenetration—a prob-lem which continues to occupy the attention of students of religion—is now dissolved and recontextualized with respect to this broader framework" (p. 3). This broader framework in-cludes science, social science, religion, medicine, and political ideology at an international as well as national level. Hess uses texts produced by Spiritists of all persuasions "as the windows on or gateways to the question of ideology, of how ideas are related to social structures and cultural meanings" (pp. 7-8). Hess also used the technique of participant observation. His method of presentation mirrors his approach. The chapters begin with the narrow description of the spirit-mediumship religion and then broadens to include "religious, scien-tific/medical and political contexts. These include other texts, historical events, overheard gossip, observed rituals and whatever else is relevant to the fullest possible understanding of Spiritist thought in the context of the ideological arena" (p. 9). The book consists of two chapters in Part One: An Introduction to Spiritism in Brazil; five chapters in Part Two: Case Studies of Spiritist Scientific Thought; Conclusions; and three interesting appendices that zero in on aspects of Spiritism.
Publisher Information:University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. 260p. Bibl: 233-252; Chap. notes: 211-225; 1 fig; Glossary: 227-232; Name Index: 253-256; Subject Index: 257-260; 1 table
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