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John of God: The Brazilian Spiritist Healer and His Western Followers

  • K3.11, Strand Campus Strand London, England United Kingdom (map)

The Brazil Institute invites you to a lecture by Professor Cristina Rocha.


John of God is a Brazilian Spiritist healer who performs physical surgeries in which he cuts people with a scalpel, scrapes their eyes with a kitchen knife, or inserts surgical scissors deep in their noses, all without asepsis or anaesthetics. He says that it is not him who performs these surgeries, but entities he ‘incorporates’ (channels). These entities are spirits of doctors, saints and others who have passed away. Since the beginning of this century John of God has become famous worldwide, with people flocking to his healing centre in central Brazil from all over the world, while he travels to perform international healing events overseas. In this paper I focus on John of God’s spirit possession and healing performances and how they elicit Westerners’ experiences of altered consciousness at his healing centre. While John of God’s cosmology and healing techniques sit within the Kardecist-Spiritist and Umbanda frameworks, I contend that Westerners desire to undergo spiritual surgeries and feel the ‘entities’ working on their bodies, as well as their understanding of these experiences have to do with an increase in reflexivity and mistrust of secular institutions (progress, science, politics) and growth in ‘spirituality’ in late modernity. Drawing on a decade of multi-sited fieldwork (participant observation and interviews) with the healer and his followers, I demonstrate that spirit possession and faith healing are not residual practices which will disappear once science and biomedicine is affordable and available the world over. It is not necessarily a practice of the poor or traditional peoples either. Indeed, most foreign seekers are educated, middle class and come from places where the best biomedicine is available.



Associate Professor Cristina Rocha is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Director of the Religion and Society Research Cluster, Western Sydney University, Australia. She co-edits the Journal of Global Buddhism and the Religion in the Americas series, Brill. Her research focuses on the intersections of globalisation, migration and religion. Her publications include: John of God: The Globalisation of Brazilian Faith Healing (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions (with M. Vásquez, Brill, 2013), Buddhism in Australia (with M. Barker, Routledge, 2010), Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity (Hawaii University Press, 2006).



This talk, part of the King's Brazil Institute Research Seminar Series, will be followed by a Q&A and wine.

Earlier Event: October 12
CineClub Presents- Terra Em Transe