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The Ghosts of Iceland 1st Edition

Robert Anderson

  • Published
  • 320 Pages


This ethnography, uniquely set in contemporary Iceland, takes an in-depth look at the way supernatural beliefs and practices (long an important subject of anthropology) thrive as an "unnamed, unpretentious, and quiet, nearly silent, spiritual movement that impacts most of the population either directly or indirectly in deeply personal ways." The author lived and worked in Reykjavik, where friends, acquaintances, students, colleagues and spirit mediums talked with him about their experiences of being in contact with spirits of the dead, including deceased loved ones and spirit doctors. Anderson's book is a primary example of signature anthropology methodology, i.e., ethnographic fieldwork or participant observation. He spent time with spirit mediums, joined in group séances, observed and recorded conversations between the living and the dead, arranged for spirit doctors to treat sick friends, and attended lectures at spiritist schools, and coffee klatches of the 'spirit society'.

Robert Anderson, Mills College

Robert Anderson is a physician-anthropologist who specializes in medical anthropology, including alternative medicine and healing, shamanism, and religion. He is a Medical Doctor (MD) who graduated from the University of Ciudad Juarez as well as a full Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Deparment of Sociology and Anthropology at Mills College, and his credentials are impressive with both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology from U.C. Berkeley. Dr. Anderson's interests in anthropology have always centered on issues of bipedalism--including back pain, bonesetting, and birthing--as well as medical anthropology and alternative medicine. While teaching in 1998 at the University of Iceland as a visiting Fulbright lecturer, Dr. Anderson was also researching alternative medicine. He discovered that in the North Atlantic, alternative medicine frequently included treatment by the ghosts of deceased doctors, which resulted in his fascinating fieldwork on religious beliefs and practices in contemporary Iceland that includes the paranormal. Over the years, he has served as Editor or as a member of the Editorial Board of several journals, including Medical Anthropology and Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, as well as the Director of Research at the San Francisco Spine Institute at Seton Medical Center. His published books include ALTERNATIVE AND CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE IN ICELAND: THE DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF LOW BACK PAIN (2000), and MAGIC, SCIENCE, AND HEALTH: THE AIMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY (1996).
1. To Talk with the Dead.
2. The Menu of Humanoid Possibilities.
3. Ghosts in the Past.
4. Dimensions of Mediumship.
5. Why the Living Dead are Popular.
6. The Ghosts of Childhood.
7. Christian Churches vs. Spiritists.
8. Spiritist Social Life.
9. New Age Elves and Fairies.
10. The Séance as Theater.
11. Failed Conversations with the Dead.
12. The Last Word.

"I like the author’s approach. His first chapter is a good introduction to his fieldwork and establishes the reality of the phenomenon he wants to study. He also is quite good in discussing the problem of anthropological neutrality in looking at religion and his own engagement in the fieldwork process as part of coming to believe in the phenomenon."

"I see this book being used primarily in introductory level courses in cultural anthropology and religious studies and in intro to upper-level undergraduate courses in … science, magic, myth, and/or religion."

"The material is fascinating and the author has an engaging style."