Coming into this course one of the things that I was most interested in was the idea of “possession”. In Morocco when we visited the Grotto of Lala Aisha and learned about the characteristics of possession I couldn’t help but wonder if possession was just a different way of describing mental illness. For instance, we learned that most people who are considered possessed don’t realize they’re possessed, but their family and friends notice because they don’t act like themselves. The same could be said of people who suffer from severe anxiety or depression as well as other types of mental illness.
Reading Bilu’s essay on “Dybbuk, Aslai and Zar” reinforces the idea that possession is a cultural construct. For instance he notes that there have been a lack of new cases in the areas which he is studying, and that the different forms of possession seem to have “died out” which he infers has to do with the changing of the times (358-359). However he also says that there is a “[…] need to view even psychiatric ailments, particularly those designated culture-bound syndromes as historical events influenced by social and political factors” (358). Although I see how he is using this to justify the idea that “possession” is a cultural construct, it raised the question for me is mental illness then a cultural construct if the same rule applies?
I sincerely do not believe that mental illness is a social construct, because there are scientific tests that prove there are certain chemical imbalances etc. that cause a majority of mental illnesses. However, this still raises the question, what is sufficient proof and how do we know if it’s sufficient? If someone who was “possessed” was given the scientific tests and nothing was found then what? Would we believe they were possessed? Or would we conclude that they were insane?