Descending with angels: islamic exorcism and psychiatry: a film monograph

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—a powerful contribution to anthropological understandings of spirit possession and Islamic exorcism and a groundbreaking work in the field of audiovisual anthropology. Exceptionally clear and well-written; a joy to read. In ethnographic approach as well as theoretical radicalism, this book sets new standards for contemporary visual anthropology.
MICHAELA SCHÄUBLE, University of Bern.

—a challenging, thought-provoking, and insightful piece of scholarship that reflects an unusually deep engagement with a difficult field of research. With a strong sense of purpose, and respect for his subject and collaborators, Suhr has produced an impressively rich ethnography, often of a highly intimate nature.
LAURA U. MARKS, Simon Fraser University.

—this is a must-read (and must-see!) not only for students and scholars of Islam, and of psychiatry, but also for all who want to think seriously about how form can be put to work conceptually—how montage, for instance, can become a mode of analysis.
AMIRA MITTERMAIER, University of Toronto.

—a huge contribution to medical anthropology and Islamic studies [and] to the development of film as a research method.
ANDY LAWRENCE, University of Manchester.

—this book and film plumb a boundary that counts above all others in Islam and arguably in every religion: the divide between the seen and unseen worlds. By focusing on jinn possession and exorcism, the author exposes the extent to which the ʿālam al-ghayb, or unseen world, informs the mundane, day-to-day existence of Muslims within it. Christian Suhr is a remarkably gifted auteur and a highly self-reflexive critic of audiovisual media. What he has to say regarding the possibilities and limitations of this medium for Islamic studies is far reaching. This book and film matter.
SIMON O’MEARA, SOAS University of London


This book and film provide an account of the invisible dynamics of possession and psychosis, and of how the bodies and souls of Muslim patients are shaped by the conflicting demands of Islam and the psychiatric institutions of European nation-states.

Over several years, Christian Suhr followed Muslim patients being treated in a Danish mosque and in a psychiatric hospital. His analysis reveals how both psychiatric and Islamic healing work not only to produce relief from pain, but also entail an ethical transformation of the patient and the cultivation of religious and secular values through the experience of pain. Creatively exploring the analytic possibilities provided by the use of a camera, both the book and film show how disruptive ritual techniques are used in healing to destabilise individual perceptions and experiences of agency, so as to allow patients to submit to the invisible powers of psychotropic medicine or God.

"Descending with angels" addresses several timely topics – Islam in the West, mental health, intercultural cohabitation – and provides new theoretical perspectives on the agency of the invisible in human life. It will be of particular interest to scholars and students of anthropology, psychiatry, film and media studies, and the study of religion and Islam.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages240
ISBN (Print)978-1-5261-4031-9
Publication statusPublished - 2019
SeriesAnthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography

    Research areas

  • ruqya, healing, psychiatry, Islam, jinn, angels, visual anthropology, ethnographic film, Denmark, al-ghayb, invisibility, spirit possession, exorcism

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