From Powerlessness to Control: Psychosis, Spirit Possession and Recovery in the Western Desert of Egypt

M. A. Rashed


This article explores an aspect of the cultural modulation of recovery in psychosis. It begins with the idea that recovery hinges on the ability of subjects to relate to their distressing experiences in ways that expand rather than diminish agency.  Based on fieldwork in the Dakhla oasis of Egypt and subsequent analysis, it is argued that interpretations of psychosis as spirit possession offer a broader range of intentionality than biomedical interpretations and therefore broader possibilities of relating to psychotic states. Modes of relating to spirits may take active or passive forms, the former consistent with the recovery goal of symptom control. Factors constitutive of the active, agency-expanding mode of relating include: the nature of spirits; the values and beliefs of the subject; the broader cultural/religious discourses which may make it either more or less likely for the subject to achieve the desired state of control over symptoms.


Schizophrenia; Psychosis; Jinn; Islam; North Africa; Spirit possession; Recovery

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