Society for Psychological Anthropology

SPA Biennial Meeting 2009

“Moments Of Crisis: Decision, Transformation, Catharsis, Critique”

Held in partnership with the Society for the Anthropology of Religion

Asilomar, CA
March 27-29, 2009

We always seem to be on the brink of crisis these days. From its early use in Greek drama and Hippocratic medicine, through its role in Christian visions of the Last Judgment, to its invocation by Rousseau, Burke, or Marx to designate major transformations of given social orders, and on to its contemporary metaphorical proliferation in a variety of discourses, in the West the concept of “crisis” has designated moments when perceptions of discontinuity or decisive change become salient for the individual and for society. Yet as globalization disrupts stable social structures and feared disasters grip the social imagination it seems that “crisis” nowadays refers not only to radical turning points but a way of life. “Crisis” might be said to constitute a moment, in the Hegelian sense, of insecurity, undecidedness, and futures beyond clear prognosis. European theorists are beginning to turn to crisis and decision as a lens to understand the human struggle. Anthropologists of religion and psychological anthropologists have a great deal to contribute to that discussion and a great deal to contribute to each other as we seek to understand “crisis” as a mode of intersubjective being, thinking and doing. What constitutes crisis and what follows from the choice to claim a moment as a crisis?

The SAR and the SPA are delighted to announce a joint meeting in Asilomar March 27-9 2009. Asilomar is an idyllic conference retreat, haunt of Mead, Bateson and other anthropologists, just north of Esalen and Big Sur on the beach of the Monterey Peninsula. We hope that the occasion provides us with intellectual vibrancy and social relaxation. The theme of the meeting is meant only to inspire participants, not to constrain them. We hope that members of our organizations will propose panels both within their subfields and panels that reach out to talk across our shared interests. We hope to encourage panels on such topics as:

Conversion processes and conversion narrativesSkepticism
Prophecy and the prophetic conditionWhat is well-being?
Toward an anthropological theory of mindThe crisis of secularism
Ritual and belief in the face of radical uncertaintyTrance and spirit possession
Prognosis and divinationTurning points in therapy
Crises of identity and faithCalifornia dreaming
On the road to Damascus: perspectives on Saint Paul.Cults of affliction
Diagnostic regimes and the discernment of crisisMarked and un-marked time
Cognitive anthropology of religionExtra-ordinary experience
Ethnography and theory of catharsisCrisis and historical consciousness
Religious uses of the psychologicalPsychological uses of the religious


Both individual papers (15 minutes) and full panels (1 hour and 45 minutes) on these and related topics are welcome. Please also send suggestions for less formal sessions involving workshops, roundtable discussions, film screenings, or other events. Younger scholars are particularly encouraged to suggest papers. The deadline for submitting suggestions for papers, panels, and other events is December 1, 2008, but earlier submissions are highly welcome. Further details are on the SPA and SAR websites and can also be obtained from the two program chairs, Aisha Khan ( and Rebecca Lester (

We hope you will join us!
Tanya Luhrmann (President, SPA) and Stephan Palmié (President, SAR)


Practical details

The deadline for submitting panel and paper proposals is December 1, 2008.

Both individual papers (15 minutes) and full panels (1 hour and 45 minutes) on these and related topics are welcome. In general the standards for participation in the American Anthropological Association meetings apply: abstracts are required for individually submitted papers, for panels, and for each paper on a panel (panel abstract and abstracts for the papers on the panel should be submitted together) and no abstract should be longer than 250 words. Each participant is allowed to have two formal roles: to give a paper, and to be a discussant. However, we encourage the submission of less formal sessions. In these less formal sessions, participation does not count against the two role rule. A discussion session can be formed by listing people who will speak for no more than five minutes, and then opening up the floor to general discussion. In this case, the session requires a session abstract but no abstracts from participants. A workshop is a focused discussion around a practical theme: for example, publication venues, team ethnography, specific methods, etc. Again, the workshop format presumes that papers are not given and the primary focus is discussion. A workshop requires a workshop abstract, but no abstracts from participants. Please submit proposals simultaneously to the two program chairs, Aisha Khan ( and Rebecca Lester (

Registration costs for the meeting are $90 for professionals and $40 for students. (Students should state their graduate program). Registration can be done through the SAR and SPA websites. Note: in years past, participants have sometimes forgotten to register. This is costly to the organization. Your registration fee covers the cost of room rental, LCD rental, coffee, tea and cookies during the meeting. This year, your registration will cover the cost of two evening parties, where the wine and beer will flow freely. Participants will not be able to gain access to their sleeping rooms or to the dining room unless they have registered for the meeting.

Asilomar Conference Grounds is a conference site, not a hotel. The cost of the room appears expensive, but in fact it includes three meals a day and tax (apart from a $1 tourism tax). Once you factor in food and tax, it is a better deal that the standard conference hotel. Costs per person per day: $198.26 for a single; $121.26 PER PERSON for a double; $91.56 PER PERSON for a triple or quad. Each person pays a $20 booking fee. Per night, you have three meals. Your first meal is dinner, your second breakfast, your third lunch. If you arrive on Friday and leave Sunday, your first meal is Friday dinner, and your last Sunday lunch. There is a vegetarian option, and other needs can be accommodated on request. There are no formal childcare facilities, but the rooms are child-friendly and on the beach. Please see the website: Non-resident participants must pay a $10/day fee; for non-residents, breakfast is roughly $9, lunch $10, dinner $18. The food is good, healthy and abundant. There are also local hotels in the area, but those who stay outside Asilomar should plan to take a car. There is coffee on site, and some snacks, but no restaurant.

PLEASE BOOK YOUR ROOM BY JANUARY 15 by filing the room request form. We strongly advise you to book your rooms by then, as rooms will be released, we will be charged for shortfall in our reservations, and you may have difficulty finding lodging. You should fly to either San Jose (closer) or San Francisco. Upon arriving, you take a shuttle to Asilomar. Please arrange in advance through Monterey Salinas Airbus 831 373 7777 (or Rates are about $35 from SJC, and $40 from SFO. Allow about ninety minutes for the trip.

Contact for Proposals: Aisha Khan, SAR ( and Rebecca Lester, SPA (