Experiments with Power
Obeah and the Remaking of Religion in Trinidad
- ISBN: 9780226705484
- Published By: University of Chicago Press
- Published: July 2020
In 2011, Trinidad declared a state of emergency. This massive state intervention lasted for 108 days and led to the rounding up of over 7,000 people in areas the state deemed "crime hot spots." The government justified this action and subsequent police violence on the grounds that these measures were restoring "the rule of law." In this milieu of expanded policing powers, protests occasioned by police violence against lower-class black people have often garnered little sympathy. But in an improbable turn of events, six officers involved in the shooting of three young people were charged with murder at the height of the state of emergency. To explain this, the host of Crime Watch, the nation's most popular television show, alleged that there must be a special power at work: obeah. From eighteenth-century slave rebellions to contemporary responses to police brutality, Caribbean methods of problem-solving "spiritual work" have been criminalized under the label of "obeah." Connected to a justice-making force, obeah remains a crime in many parts of the anglophone Caribbean. In Experiments with Power, J. Brent Crosson addresses the complex question of what obeah is. Redescribing obeah as "science" and "experiments," Caribbean spiritual workers unsettle the moral and racial foundations of Western categories of religion. Based on more than a decade of conversations with spiritual workers during and after the state of emergency, this book shows how the reframing of religious practice as an experiment with power transforms conceptions of religion and law in modern nation-states.