Naomi Leite, Lecturer in Anthropology, SOAS

Substance, Spirit, and “the Jewish Family”: Marrano Logics of Person and Kin

This paper centers on a classic anthropological question: the relationship between kinship and personhood, in particular how webs of relations create certain kinds of persons and how those persons are in turn defined and recognized as kin by others. Rather than the context of the family or lineage, however, I transpose this question to the broad scale of peoplehood. I proceed through an exploration of identity construction among Portugal’s urban Marranos, who trace their ancestry to 15th-century Jews forcibly to convert to Catholicism, and their interactions with international Jewish heritage tourists and outreach workers, who view them as “lost brethren.” I tease apart different logics of kinship as they are brought to bear at this broad scale of relatedness, with particular attention to emic tensions between knowledge and belief, discourse and experience, mysticism and “the real,” and, above all, substance and spirit. When viewed in the context of direct encounter, I argue, the reasoning and interactions involved present a significant challenge to received anthropological wisdom about “Western” models of kinship, personhood, and causality.

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