Deep-seated beliefs

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Journalists flock to Ghana after an elderly woman is burned alive for being a witch. Similar stories have drawn reporters many times, always with the same question: Witchcraft still exists? Dr. Alexandra Crampton, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, asks a different question in her study “No Peace in the House: Witchcraft Accusations as an ‘Old Women’s Problem’ in Ghana.”

Crampton asks: “How do you address deep-seated beliefs?”

Accusations of witchcraft in Ghana are often made to explain happy and sad life events. For example, someone’s inability to find work or something tragic happening to a loved one may result in an accusation of witchcraft. These accusations commonly take place within the family system, Crampton explains, and older women are generally the victims. The accused seek refuge in “witch camps.”

Crampton notes that international media has publicized the problems women face when attacked or banished as witches. But her study focuses instead on the topics of gender and aging and how negative views of both contribute to accusations of witchcraft. “If you’re only focusing on the most horrific aspects of witchcraft accusations, you don’t see the more complex picture about where the stresses are coming from,” she says.

Crampton spent several weeks visiting witch camps while working with the Go-Home Project, a non-governmental organization sponsored by the Presbyterian Church to focus on family conflict resolution. The Go-Home Project ended in 2009 because of a lack of funding, but the model for resolving familial conflicts proved successful.

Crampton explains it is difficult for outsiders to see that witchcraft is part of local ways of life and culture. “You need to engage with people,” she says, “and learn from their strengths, abilities and insights that are useful, as well.”

Her research seeks to help people identify different ways to view and address situations. Crampton thinks mediating family conflicts to help families deal with grief, poverty and misfortune is a more effective solution. — WM

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