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Kate Ramsey: Powers of Imagination and Afro-Caribbean Healing in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Atlantic

When: Thursday, April 19, 2018
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM CT

Where: 1902 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 Evanston map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Gina Giliberti  

Group: Global Politics and Religion Research Group

Category: Academic


Afro-Caribbean spiritual practices became an object of law in many British Caribbean colonies at a time of intense transatlantic medical interest in the powers of the imagination. This paper examines how in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries practices glossed as “obeah” came to be intensely associated first by British Caribbean slaveholders and then much more widely with imaginative pathology. Beyond what has been recognized, this association shaped and justified the anti-obeah laws that went into effect across the British Caribbean at that time. While in Western Europe medical ideas about the imagination had played a crucial part in the decriminalization of “witchcraft” and the conversion of its pretense to a minor offense, my research reveals how the continued elaboration of such ideas played a role in the criminalization of obeah as a capital offense across most British colonies at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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