Possessed by Mary: Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Marian Spirit Possession in Tamil Nadu, South India


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project, a book-length ethnography grounded in the interpretive traditions of the history of religions, follows the lives of three Roman Catholic women in Tamil Nadu, south India, who claim to be possessed by Mary, the mother of Jesus. Differing in caste, class, and geographic backgrounds, these Tamil women enact healing rituals while possessed, drawing hundreds of Christian and Hindu devotees and defying normative stereotypes of what it means to be Christian or Hindu, village or urban, South Asian or, for that matter, “Mary.” Drawing upon a range of popular local practices, their counter-hegemonic performances challenge Christian and Hindu orthodoxies and patriarchies. They also draw the ire of Roman Catholic clergy, who have banned attendance by the faithful.