Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
On Kenya’s Indian Ocean Island of Lamu, a young British woman discusses the health benefits of acupuncture, cupping, and meditation. She explains she came to Lamu to offer much-needed alternative healing practices to the local Muslim population. Western expats who own yoga studios on the island similarly suggest yoga and mindfulness bring much-needed development to the island. Presented as “alternative lifestyles,” these practices are linked to modern, empowered and often spiritual rather than religious bodies. Lamu’s Muslim community, however, increasingly draws attention to the similarities between Islamic healing practices and the notions of mindfulness, health, and spirituality promoted by these Euro-Americans. Young yogis from Lamu justify their practice by comparing yoga poses to the Islamic prayer and Islamic dhikr to mediation. Local healers identify the practice of hijama or “cupping” as the Prophetic tradition that inspired Euro-American’s dry cupping practices.
By considering practitioners’ discourses about and promotion of alternative healing, mindfulness and yoga, I contemplate how spirituality and religiosity are discursively erased from or ascribed to bodies and practices. In particular, I examine how embodied signs of spirituality – visible marks on the body – are mobilized in the imagining of spiritual or faith-based communities. I thereby explore how practitioners discursively construct connections between Islamic healing practices and Euro-American promotions of mindfulness, health, and spirituality to imagine shared beliefs and subjectivities.