Female. Education: Cornell University, Ph.D., 1993.
Writer and professor. University of Michigan—Flint, associate professor of anthropology.
Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1998.
Contributor to books, including Gendered Encounters: Challenging Cultural Boundaries and Social Hierarchies in Africa, edited by Maria Grosz-Ngate and Omari Kokole, Routlege, 1998; Transforming States, edited by Carol Greenhouse, Duke University Press, 2002; Women on the Verge of Home, edited by Bilinda Straight, State University of New York Press, 2005; and Older Women Anthropologists: Narratives, edited by Maria Cattell and Marjorie Schweitzer, in press.
Anthropologist Judy Rosenthal examines in-depth the religion and social law of native cultures living throughout Togo, Ghana, and the Bight of Benin in her ethnographic study Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Based on two years of intensive fieldwork and follow-up contact, the book concerns Gorovodu and Mama Tchamba, the possession trance religions of the Ewe people and related groups inhabiting Togo and surrounding countries. "Rosenthal's ethnography reveals the meanings of personhood, gender, and slavery in two communities about whom western scholars had previously known very little," commented Mindie Lazarus-Black in Law and History Review. "In addition, she also provides an erudite and perceptive account of the ways in which ritual serves 'structure and anti-structure'" in the practitioners' communities.
Gorovodu and Mama Tchamba resemble other vodu religions from Haiti and Brazil, noted Erika Bourguignon in the Antioch Review. These faiths involve a large pantheon of gods, and "Rosenthal's comprehensive description of the Gorovodu and Mama Tchamba pantheon is impressive," Lazarus-Black stated. "As in Haitian Vodun, the pantheon is very extensive and each deity commands a litany of services and sacrifices." The gods are the origin of the law the practitioners follow. In addition, law derives from a geomantic system of divination called Afa, which comprises "256 major and 240 minor signs to guide everyday activities, health and mental well-being, and significant life decisions and events," as Lazarus-Black explained. When Gorovodu and Mama Tchamba practitioners participate in divination, they acquire power over their lives. Since law derives from the gods and from divination, practitioners choose to adhere to the law when they live their lives by "prescribed regimes for proper living," Lazarus-Black reported. This choice brings them into intimate contact with their gods, as "the gift for living according to the law is the ecstasy that comes with possession by the appreciative gods."
Rosenthal carefully examines the social structure the practice of Gorovodu law brings to the Ewe. She analyzes the cultural significance of binary oppositions—husband and wife, north and south, male and female—in Ewe life, and also provides insights into the former Ewe practice of keeping slaves. The Ewe have no concept of "master" in terms of a slave owner, Lazarus-Black reported. Slaves were not considered property, but instead fell under the authority of the head of the household of the families for whom they worked, as do other members of the family. An important "ritual of reversal" transformed former slaves into divinities, while the descendants of former slaveholders serve as "willing hosts" for their spirits.
Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo "achieves its goal of bringing elegantly to light the world view and ritual practices of fascinating people," Lazarus-Black commented, while Bourguignon praised Rosenthal's book as "a complex, dense, outstanding study."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Ethnologist, August, 1999, Adeline Masquelier, review of Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, pp. 774-775.
Antioch Review, winter, 2000, Erika Bourguignon, review of Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, p. 121.
Journal of Anthropological Research, summer, 1999, Erika Bourguignon, review of Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, pp. 322-323.
Law and History Review, summer, 2001, Mindie Lazarus-Black, review of Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, p. 468.