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Christian Suhr

The fifth chapter explores the sacrifices expected from patients in both systems of treatment. Taking the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son as a model for healing, the chapter analyses the ways in which patients – through leaps of faith – dismantle those parts within themselves perceived by the healer as the core of their suffering: psychotic delusions, jinn, or the desires of what in Islamic theology is referred to as the lower self. In conclusion it is argued that self-sacrifice of this kind enables the patients to submit to their treatment, and thereby to be reinstated as moral and healthy subjects in the structural order implied by the two systems of healing: biomedicine and Salafi-oriented interpretations of Islam. The chapter expands on the analysis of the scenes from the accompanying film presented in Chapter 4, but also explores additional scenes of the interaction between patients and psychiatrists.

in Descending with angels
Christian Suhr

Chapter four takes a further step into the specific healing interactions between Muslim patients, psychiatrists, and Quranic healers by analysing how the Islamic and psychiatric treatments that are shown in the accompanying film depend on an oscillation between making visible and keeping invisible – between giving a tangible visual form to the suffering of patients and to possible paths for their healing, and yet simultaneously disabling and dismantling other possible visualisations. Iconoclastic practices in both psychiatric healthcare and Islamic exorcism are related to the issue of faith in healing and the necessity of doubt in order to attain faith. The widely disputed notion of ‘patient’ is of key importance. In contrast to recent user-oriented and holistic approaches in psychiatry, as well as a number of studies in medical anthropology that tend to emphasise healing as an effect of human self-creativity, the issue in the treatments the author studied was not framed in terms of how to gain agency; rather, the main concern was ‘how to become a patient’, which involved the surrender of individual agency in favour of allowing something else to do the work of healing.

in Descending with angels
Christian Suhr

The second chapter discusses the methodological and personal dilemmas of conducting long-term anthropological fieldwork in a highly politicised context. The chapter begins with a discussion of recent anthropological debates about how to take the viewpoints of others seriously, even when doing so implies accepting the existence of invisible beings and phenomena such as angels, jinn, God, schizophrenia, psychosis, or depression. The chapter explores a number of critical experiences and conversations between the author and the people he worked with and introduces several of the people in the accompanying film.

in Descending with angels
Christian Suhr

This introductory chapter explores how the invisible has been dealt with in the social sciences, in Islamic theology, and in public debates in Western media on the question of whether Islam is in fact the underlying invisible cause of ‘integration problems’. The exploration of the invisibility and hypervisibility of Muslims in the West leads to a discussion of invisibility in relation to theories about human perceptual agency. While a number of influential studies in anthropology and psychiatry have been concerned with how best to account for human agency, it is proposed that both the psychiatric and Islamic treatments that are the focus of the book point primarily to the idea of human agency as an obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to access either the invisible healing of God, or that of psychotropic medicine. Finally the author discusses his approach to ethnographic film and how he has applied the cinematic gaze as a methodological and analytical tool for displacing his own perception when studying the invisible among Danish Muslims.

in Descending with angels
Christian Suhr

Based on an analysis of Scene 7 in the accompanying film, the third chapter discusses how young Muslims use the increasing number of jinn exorcisms on YouTube as a form of entertainment, but also as a way of cultivating an awareness and an ethical disposition of the self in confrontation with the invisible. The chapter explores how these exorcisms produce doubt and discuss the ways in which doubt is an integral part of these young Muslims’ practices of faith. In addition the chapter explores how the recurrent discussion of the value of images in anthropology could find new answers by examining the way these Muslims use and respond to visual media. The chapter concludes by discussing the peculiar resemblance between the visual display of photographic images and the bodies of people possessed by invisible jinn. Like the possessed body, the image as a failed example or model of reality makes certain things visible, but simultaneously amplifies the sense of invisibility, pointing toward that which cannot be seen, depicted visually, or represented in writing.

in Descending with angels
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Christian Suhr

The final chapter of the book concludes on the findings of the preceding chapters, and critically discusses to what extent the analysis as a whole has adequately accounted for the work of the invisible in Islamic and psychiatric healing. If the invisible is indeed invisible, as claimed both by existential phenomenologists like Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas, as well as in Islamic theology, it would be problematic if the analysis of Islamic exorcisms and Danish psychiatry had succeeded in outlining and visualising the work of the invisible in any finite or exhaustive way. For this reason the final chapter of the book is dedicated to those aspects of the treatments that – as pockets of still unexplored invisibility – stubbornly refuse to fit within the overall analytical scheme of the book.

in Descending with angels
Christian Suhr

Chapter 6 explores the healing encounters between Muslim healers, patients, psychiatrists, and nurses as ritual practices. It analyses the aesthetic forms applied in the healing encounters in order to facilitate the possibility of self-sacrifice, and to move beyond the boundaries of the immediately visible. Inspired by recent attempts to apply the film theory of Eisenstein, Vertov, and Deleuze to the theorisation of ritual and religious art, the chapter analyses the interaction during exorcisms and the psychiatric treatments that are shown in the film as a ritual dialectic moving toward dissolution by way of disruptive montage. The chapter shows how submission to a particular form of healing is facilitated by the healers’ ability to conjure the sense of an all-encompassing world of knowledge and total vision to which the patients’ limited and partial perspectives must subject themselves.

in Descending with angels
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Jill Fitzgerald
in Rebel angels
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Jill Fitzgerald

This chapter considers the fall of the angels in Old English saints’ lives, wherein holy men and women articulate the narrative as though it were a charm, a verbal defence mechanism offering spatial, geographical, and bodily protections. Just as Anglo-Saxon charms master something threatening by defining and reciting its name, properties, and origins, so too in Elene and Juliana do Cynewulf’s saintly protagonists Judas Cyriacus and Juliana master their demonic tempters by identifying them and recounting their originary sin. While in these poems the origin narrative is itself apotropaic, in Andreas the fall of the angels narrative is linked to the protective power of the baptismal seal (or sphragis) that safeguards Christians against the devil. Similarly, Guthlac A relates how Guthlac disarms his demonic tormentors by recounting the story of their fall and by expressing his faithful expectation that he will be one of their replacements in heaven.

in Rebel angels
Jill Fitzgerald

This chapter argues that the poet of Genesis B imagines Satan’s crime as a failure to accept sovereign checks on his power and limits upon his territorial ambitions. Irish vernacular adaptations similarly depict how Satan views humankind as rival-inheritors of lands to which he feels entitled. These accounts, found in texts such as Saltair na Rann and Lebor Gabála, derive from the apocryphal ‘Life of Adam and Eve’. We see how both Anglo-Saxon and Irish authors adapt apocryphal traditions for a powerful socio-political effect, imagining features of their own ecclesiastical and secular administrations as mimetic representations of divine structures.

in Rebel angels