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A Goddess in Motion: Visual Creativity in the Cult of María Lionza

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Volume 42

New Directions in Anthropology

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A Goddess in Motion

Visual Creativity in the Cult of María Lionza

Roger Canals

212 pages, 20 illus., 2 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-612-6 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (August 2017)

ISBN  978-1-80073-371-8 $34.95/£27.95 / Pb / Published (January 2022)

eISBN 978-1-78533-613-3 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“Throughout the book, the writing is clear and straightforward. In his discussions of theoretical works on images and visuality, Canals adopts a patient, explanatory tone, which makes this book ideal for teaching on visual anthropology courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, especially if combined with the ethnographic films and website that he has also produced on the subject… A goddess in motion is visual ethnography at its best: it combines serious analysis with visually evocative descriptions, which together capture the complexity and significance of its subject.” • Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“The result of [the author’s] effort is a great ethnography that puts the much-neglected María Lionza cult on the map—and a global map at that… Yet Canals’s ambition clearly reaches beyond ethnography, and the book can indeed be read as an interesting example of current attempts in anthropology to theorize the fact that all we ever describe are worlds-in-motion.” • Religion and Society

“This work does justice to a dynamic material reality of religious practice and experience. By describing a relatively unexplored and fascinating current religious practice, Canals contributes to the study of religion in Venezuela in an academically and socially relevant way. Furthermore, his wish to contribute to the changing opinion about the cult so that it acquires ‘the recognition and respect that it deserves’ shows Canals’ passion for his research subject, which adds to the book’s strength.” • The Pomegranate

“As the only English-language scholarly monograph dedicated to the cult of Mar´ıa Lionza, A Goddess in Motion is a laudable contribution to the study of new religions in Latin America. Readers will find the author’s general methodology and casual neologisms (like the ‘nomadism of images’) helpful for thinking about visually rich, combinative religions like Brazilian Umbanda and Puerto Rican santerismo… A Goddess in Motion offers a compelling methodological apparatus, and specialists will surely value its careful treatment of the understudied cult of Mar´ıa Lionza.” • Nova Religio

“A highly welcome addition to the literature on one of the most fascinating… religious formations of the Americas, and a searching exploration of visual creativity. A Goddess in Motion presents an ethnographically rich, and theoretically sophisticated plea for re-thinking visual anthropology as more than a mere subfield of the discipline. In paying close attention to the kaleidoscopic swirl of ever-changing images that envelop humans, spirits and the spaces of their interaction, Canals reveals what a genuine anthropology of the visual might look like.” • Stephan Palmié, University of Chicago

“The Most [current] monograph so far on the images and performance around María Lionza, [it] will move the reader as the Venezualan goddess moves its believers. One of the deepest theoretical reflections about the social and cultural dimensions of a very local and at the same time very transnational religious life, it offers one of the most successful combinations of the anthropology of religion and the anthropology of the visual. Canals knows how to knit the two together, not only by reviewing with clarity the most innovative theories of these fields, but also by bringing them to life in his engaging ethnography centered on ritual imagery, participation and creativity.” • Ramon Sarró, University of Oxford

“This is an excellent study. It has the quality of a good ethnography of the María Lionza cult, analyzing the cultural particularity of this worship, and also contains good theoretical reflections on the role of visual images in religious cults.” • Joan Bestard, University of Barcelona


The current practice of the cult of María Lionza is one of the most important and yet unexplored religious practices in Venezuela. Based on long-term fieldwork, this book explores the role of images and visual culture within the cult. By adopting a relational approach, A Goddess in Motion shows how the innumerable images of this goddess—represented as an Indian, white or mestizo woman—move constantly from objects to bodies, from bodies to dreams, and from the religion domain to the art world. In short, this book is a fascinating study that sheds light on the role of visual creativity in contemporary religious manifestations.

Roger Canals works as associate professor in the department of Social Anthropology at the University of Barcelona. Besides numerous articles in visual anthropology and anthropology of religion, he is the director of several international award-winning ethnographic films, including A Goddess in Motion (2016, Wenner-Gren Foundation). In 2020, he was awarded an ERC-Consolidator Grant for the project Visual Trust. Reliability, accountability and forgery in scientific, religious and social images (2021-2026).

Subject: Anthropology of ReligionAnthropology (General)Cultural Studies (General)
Area: Latin America and the Caribbean


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