AAA Presenter(s) Needed ASAP – Neuroanthropology and Dissociation, Absorption, Embodiment

Chris Lynn and Jeff Snodgrass are putting together a double session for the American Anthropological Association annual meeting, which will be held in Montreal on November 16-20. The panel’s title is: “The Neuroanthropology of Embodiment, Absorption, and Dissociation: Research in Ritual, Play, and Entertainment.”

Due to some late withdrawals, they’d like to find one or two more people for the panel as quickly as possible, as all submissions for the conference are due this Friday, April 15th. Please email Chris at cdlynn at and Jeff at Jeffrey.Snodgrass at

This panel will present research that modernizes the legacy of trance and possession research in anthropology. The aim is to integrate anthropological and neuroscientific frameworks to explain continuities and differences across “dissociative,” “absorptive,” and “embodied” forms of ritual, play, and entertainment. Anthropology has long focused on the ways culture is cognitively apprehended and shared, as well as the degree to which it is performed or embodied through collective and individual behavior. One lens has been through the frame of dissociation, or the partitioning of conscious awareness, and how this frame is mediated by culture.

This year’s conference theme is particularly relevant, as we will be comparing and contrasting the legacy of what has been clinically conceived of as a ‘dissociation spectrum’ that includes traces of unspecified normative cultural models with specific contemporary analogs of dissociative or absorptive ritual and secular play, games, and entertainment. The tidemarks of dissociation and absorption as processes of psyche appear in personal and idiosyncratic forms, transiently marking experience and identity, but, given their processual nature, falling short of defining them. However, religio-cultural practices have in some cases been defined as dissociative—‘trance cultures,’ for example—and researchers have sought to understand higher relative rates of such behaviors in functionalist, structuralist, or political economic terms. Advances in the theory and methods for understanding mechanisms of mind and embodiment present opportunities for a richer appreciation of the flow of personal experience within the fluidity of culture.

A recent SPA discussion session explored the premise that dissociation and absorption describe different though overlapping phenomena, as measured by various clinical scales; but debate persists as to which is the umbrella phenomena or if a hierarchical ranking of degree from absorption to immersion to dissociation better accounts for the continuities observed across cultural practices. Furthermore, dissociation is often described as lack of psychic integration, absorption as mental focus, and embodiment as the integration of mental and physical processes, and. However, anthropologists describe some dissociative and absorptive experiences as forms of cultural embodiment. For example, some spiritual adepts can shed their self-consciousness and reach states of seeming unity of mind and body. Less appreciated but more central to daily life, deeply absorptive games or creative pursuits can lead to feelings of “flow” or “being in the zone,” catalyzing similar integration of psyche and soma.

This session will continue to clarify the meaning and relevance of concepts of dissociation, absorption, and embodiment for the study of ritual and secular play and entertainment. Research presented includes a range of religious and secular activities, from spirit possession and Pentecostalism to Burning Man and World of Warcraft to jazz flow and Civil War reenactment. To avoid reifying conceptual distinctions and better interface with psychiatric and epidemiological studies, this panel emphasizes the development of heuristic models that can be empirically tested. More specifically, we suggest such models be tested against sociocultural, psychological, and also neuroscientific data, thus integrating context-specific and universalizing perspectives to provide richer and more complete explanations for the activities of Homo ludens.

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