Important Notice

Dear Delegates,

Dear Attendees,

It is with great regret that we announce the cancellation of the ISARS conference titled “Relation, connections, cosmologies, shamanism and spirit possession under the ethnographic lens” (November 27th-30th).

It was a very difficult and painful decision. As an organizing committee, we have been very concerned with the events that have been occurring in Chile, specifically in Santiago, over the last three weeks. We have been keeping a close eye on the situation, and we have been putting off major decisions, until now. There have been large and peaceful protest marches that have persistently asked for improved living and working conditions in what is one of the most economically unequal countries in the developed world. However, there have also been more violent factions that have caused great damage to public and private properties. The metro, for instance, was one of these damaged infrastructures, from the first week. The police and the military were deployed almost straight away, and the president declared a state of emergency, as well as instating a curfew. You may also have heard of human rights abuses on the part of the armed forces in Chile. That people have been tortured, raped, shot, maimed, and disappeared. All of this is taken as true, and is evident through many videos on social media, and it is being investigated by the Human Rights Commission, and by observers from the United Nations. The violence on the state end has promoted more violence on the people´s end, inevitably. During the first week, everything was paralyzed in the city: public transports, shops and supermarkets closed, universities and businesses shut. We thought that things were getting calmer. This was evident in opening again of businesses and schools, and improved public transport, higher morale among the city folk. However, yesterday violence escalated again, and affected the Pontificia Universidad Católica directly. There were a couple of events. First, vandalism in Casa Central, the University´s central campus. Second, and more worryingly, student protesters outside and inside the gates of Campus San Joaquin, where the anthropology department is, were systematically fired on with water cannons and tear gas bombs by Special Forces. Some of the tear gas was shot into the university, in a clear violation of human rights and a clear invasion of private property. The Rector of the University has strongly condemned this unprovoked repressive violence.

What we though it was a safe place – Campus San Joaquin, where the conference should have been held – which is far away from the city center and a very large American-style campus, is now unpredictable. It has been safe, all the days of the unrest, until yesterday. But as in any conflict or crisis, especially between a repressive state and its reactive people, there is a measure that we cannot predict. Things can get hairy, very fast.

The Organizing Committee and our Chilean colleagues in particular, made all possible efforts to ensure a safe environment for the delegates but, after the incident at PUC, we had to make the sad and painful decision to cancel the conference as the situation is too uncertain and too unpredictable.

A shorter version of this declaration can be downloaded here in case you should need it to claim air tickets and accommodation fares.

The ISARS strongly supports the struggle of Chilean people for social equality and justice and strongly condemn all kinds of violation of social and human rights.

Diana Riboli

ISARS President

The ISARS 2019 Conference Scientific and Organizing Committee:

Diana Espirito Santo, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, CRIA-Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Diana Riboli, Panteio University
Eugenia Roussou, CRIA/ISCTE-IUL
Davide Torri, Heidelberg University

Important Notice

ISARS 2019

Relations, connections, cosmologies: shamanism and spirit possession under the ethnographic lens

The question of what shamanistic practices “do” in any given society has always been a central one in anthropology, and much analysis has understood ritual and spiritual experience as connected to other spheres of society, especially to political and ideological dimensions. This has been emphasized by anthropological literature on cultures that have experienced radical changes of political structure. For instance, Piers Vitebsky reminds us that shamans do not work in a political vacuum (2002); in possession or shamanic cults throughout Asia, he argues, spirit helpers are often kings, policemen, generals, clerks, as well as “wild” spirits; i.e. reflective of worldly difficulties brought about by the onset of a particular state or bureaucratic system. Possession or shamanic trance in these cases can often embody a form of resisting or mocking authority, as Paul Stoller shows in his classic analysis of spirit possession among the Songhay people of Niger (1993). In a contemporary setting, we are interested in looking at the intersections of possession/shamanic cosmologies with globalization and neoliberal policies, as well as concerns with ecology, climate change and indigenous rights.

However, we don’t want to simply observe that intersection. Following a host of more recent scholars, we want to go back to more primary questions – about what shamanism and spirit possession arein particular cultural places, rather than about how they dialogue with, or resist, their particular context. In Mongolia or Amazonia, for instance, shamanism has been described as defined by its intersubjectivity (Humphrey, 1996; Viveiros de Castro, 2007): a shaman is a highly relational being that mediates between past and present, and between different ontological statuses, with possession belonging to the whole community. Equally, Morten Pedersen argues that in the ontological chaos of post-socialist Mongolia, with many new spirit forms emerging, shamanism in some sense was the transformation or change itself (2011). Shamanism can be defined here as a transitional cosmology, rather than as a fixed set of ideas or practices. In Cuba, on the other hand, spirits take a number of forms, as do practices of possession. Aisha Beliso-De Jesús has understood spirits in non-substantial terms (2015): as electric currents, electronic “co-presences” transmitted through media technologies such as DVDs as practitioners travel between countries. In Mozambique, a radical distinction between physical and spiritual realities is untenable (Nielsen, 2015), as ancestors live inside people´s bodies, empowering and guiding them.

In this conference we wish to go back to ontological basics in relation to spirit cosmologies, and practices of possession and shamanism. We will ask what possibilities or worlds shamanism and spirit possession create and enablein these environmentsthrough their practice by experts and laypersons. We will ask, in a pragmatic sense, what theeffects of shamanism and spirit possession are: what kinds of entities are made possible via the manipulation of things in the world, for instance, or of the training of bodies to receive them? We will similarly explore questions of materials, media and technologies in relation to shamanism and spirit possession, and ask: can we look at these technologies and corresponding techniques as generative or expansive of, rather than just mediatory or reflective of, particular cosmologies? We can further ask, what is the fundamental role of the senses in spirit ceremonies? In what ways are emotions and affects central to the very existence of spirits and other entities, and how are people themselves constituted as persons through these encounters?

 Visa and Letter of Invitation

Please inform us if you need a formal letter of invitation for visa or for other purposes, such as travel grant applications. Please send your request to:

Conference Registration

Please visit Conference Registration for further details.

Location of the conference

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Santiago, Campus San Joaquín,
Address: Av. Vicuña MacKenna 4860, Macul, La Florida, Región Metropolitana, Chile

The closest metro station is San Joaquín (just in front of the campus, Green Line L5).
Location of the campus in googlemaps
Map of the metro lines in Santiago del Chile

For further details, please contact the ISARS secretary at

We look forward to welcoming you to Santiago, Chile in November 2019.

The ISARS 2019 Conference Scientific and Organizing Committee:

  • Diana Espirito Santo, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
  • Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, CRIA Universidade Nova de Lisboa
  • Diana Riboli, Panteio University
  • Eugenia Roussou, CRIA/ISCTE-IUL
  • Davide Torri, Heidelberg University

Download Call for Papers/Sessions (PDF)

ISARS 2019 Program (pdf, Final Version Nov. 1st 2019)