CRG Seminar: "My Illness is My Power”: a Philosophical Reflection on ‘Divine Madness’ within the Context of Ethiopian Spirit Mediumship

Mediums and adherents of Zar spirits in Ethiopia partake in a distinctive understanding of illness. As stories of many zar mediums demonstrate, the genesis of being a medium is mostly traced back to a certain form of illness. The ailment, anguish, and suffering preceding mediumship is not therefore an illness in the ordinary sense of the word. The pun that stands out in the title is nipped from the reaction of a woman who resisted a medium’s counsel to exorcise the spirit that possessed her and relieved her of condition. This talk, drawing on Ethiopian Zar mediumship beliefs and practices (especially the illness stories of mediums) and Plato’s idea of “divine madness,” will show how illness could be much needed because it is a power.   


Setargew Kenaw Fantaw is an associate professor of philosophy and cultural anthropology at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. He has published two books, a considerable number of journal articles, and book chapters. His research interest include epistemology, STS (science, technology and society), existentialism, and classical Ethiopian philosophy. Currently a visiting research fellow at the African Studies Centre Leiden, Setargew is undertaking a philosophical inquiry into selected Ethiopian biographies and religious commentaries, including the biography of the 17th century Ethiopian saint Walatta Petros.

Date, time and location

20 February 2020
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 1A12