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John of God and his Western Followers

Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2006-2008
John of God and his Western Followers

In just over a decade the Brazilian faith healer John of God became a global superstar – visited by thousands of the desperately ill, the wealthy, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and performance artist Marina Abramovic, and an array of media. What set John of God apart were his spectacular healing methods. He performed surgeries under a trance using kitchen knives, scissors, and scalpels without anaesthetics or asepsis. Most people claimed they did not feel pain and did not develop infections. While crowds travelled to his ‘spiritual hospital’ in central Brazil, John of God travelled extensively overseas conducting healing events for thousands of paying guests. In 2019, all this came to an end when the healer was accused of sexual crimes. After hundreds of women came to the fore, he was charged and jailed for 62 years.

Drawing on extensive multi-sited fieldwork in Brazil, Germany, Australia, the US and New Zealand, this project explored how religion is both globalised and localised in late modernity; the establishment of transnational communities of belief; the transformation of poor rural areas into sites of globalization; the efficacy of healing across cultures, and the prominent place of healing (of the body, the spirit and the planet) and its intimate connection with spirituality and religion in late modernity. This project resulted in the award-winning book John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing (OUP 2017).

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