Valmynd Leit

Superpowers and Elderly Women across the Planet

Superpowers and Elderly Women across the Planet: Material Spirituality from South India to Northern Iceland

Based on comparative fieldwork in far-flung locations, Corinne Dempsey offers her impressions of two comparative research projects, one she has completed, the other just begun, both involving the lives of Akureyri residents. The first explores spiritual “superpowers” as witnessed among Tamil Sri Lankans at a Hindu goddess temple in Upstate NY and andleg málefni among participants in Akureyri. While practitioners in both settings describe their mystical experiences in strikingly similar ways, their interpretations could not be more different. In the end, these similar-yet-different supernatural abilities demonstrate the ways in which bodies can become vehicles for spiritual perception as well as for carrying out the common goal of selfless service. The second, ongoing project draws from more than sixty interviews with elderly women in California, South India, and Akureyri. Not surprisingly, these conversations reveal dramatic differences in spiritual outlook between cultures. Yet woven throughout are women’s descriptions of sacred encounters that, amid their variety, materialize in immediate and earthly ways.

Corinne Dempsey is professor of Religious Studies and Director of International and Global Studies Program at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. Her ethnographical research and writing explores Hindu-Christian ritual exchange in Kerala, South India; an unconventional Hindu goddess temple in Upstate, NY; Icelandic spirit work (andleg málefni) in Akureyri; and, most recently, spiritual evolutions and perceptions of elderly women across cultures. She has published four monographs with Oxford University Press, the most recent being Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth: Spirits and Spirit Work in Northern Iceland.

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