Maria José de Abreu

Maria José de Abreu

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Religion and Political Theory, Media and Technology, Materiality, Governance, Personhood, Political Economy, Political Philosophy


Brazil, Portugal, and other Lusophone regions.



My work engages with a range of anthropological, philosophical, and literary debates about religion, temporality, spatiality, movement, personhood, the human senses and their technological extensions. In my work I often explore relations between body, media and territoriality less in view of a comprehension of these individual aspects, as a way to focus on the nature of the relationality as such. Recently, I have published a series of articles and short essays on authoritarian communication, and/or linguistic and media communication in the context of right-wing authoritarianism in the contexts of Brazil, Portugal and the United States. I am interested in the question of political imagination.

My first book project The Charismatic Gymnasium: breath, media and religious revivalism in contemporary Brazil (Duke University Press, 2021) centers on the role of pneuma (the Greek term for air, breath or spirit) in linking religious revivalism to neoliberal logics in contemporary Brazil. The book explores versatile intersections between media technologies, breath-induced bodily elasticity, and charismatic spirituality as a template to address larger questions concerning the somewhat paradoxical yet fluid notion of neoliberal authoritarianism in contemporary religious and political life-worlds.

A second project tentatively titled Portugal is Sea: continental extensions and maritimization of the land investigates Portugal as a newly imagined costal state in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The book investigates the Atlantic maritime politics and abstract logics with respect to ongoing claims to the UN of an extended outer continental-shelf that would allow Portugal, (along with the Archipelagos of Azores and Madeira) to extend its sovereign rights far beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone-EEZ. The book’s working hypothesis is this: In the attempt to make the territory of the submerged platform legible to the UN, it is equally paramount to capitalize on such impending dispensation, and make land an extension of the sea; that is, to have the life on the land implement sea-based affordances, its swerves, currents, and oscillatory rhythms as given, for instance, by the market’s up-and-downs, the constant veering of decision-making in politics, the rollers of investment, the to-and-fro of tourism, in labor migration, digital nomadism, temporary residences and hyperbolic sales; a coordinated fluid and volatile economic machine in a vast swirl of people, things and events.

Moving transversely across distinctions such as the private and the public, family and nation, inheritance and meritocracy, empire and the postcolonial, fascism and neoliberalism, the book theorizes ethnographically-informed spaces of tension, semantic fog, and cynical reasoning, in ways that make old style sovereign decision—though not governance—difficult or impossible. At stake is how in Portugal such tensions, faults and frictions justify and legitimate new state-market policies of reconnection to the Atlantic, its hydrography and geomorphology (including the undersea canyon just off the coast of Nazaré, or the fault of marquis of Pombal after the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755), in parallel to the formation of new surfing sovereignties equipped to navigate faults, paradox, striation and lateralization of currents in national and international terms.

A parallel, and smaller, project is dedicated to thinking the articulation between the history of women and coloniality during the Estado Novo authoritarianism in Portugal. I am interested in how a problematic en/gendering of the land as “colonizable” in theAtlantic Luso-phone world created the possibility for a particular kind of fictional writing in the 1970’s. Through an engagement with The New Portuguese Letters (1971), the project uses its literary universes as windows into histories of colonial occupation and domestication of the Archipelagos of Madeira and Azores and its historical connections to Cape Vert and St Tomé-e-Principe, through its specific geo-topographi features.

My ethnographic work has been supported by Fundação para Ciência e a Tecnologia, Lisbon, University of Amsterdam, Forum for Transregional Studies, Berlin, ICI-Berlin, and Rework: Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History, at Humboldt University in Berlin. 

Co-director for Center for Comparative Media (2022/23)

Director of Undergraduate Studies Spring/2023.

Editorial board of Journal of Public Culture.



University of Amsterdam, PhD in Anthropology, 2009

2023b Does Bolsonaro Have a Point? (Or Does He have a Semi-Colon?), Grey Room 91. Spring. 

2023a) Thoughts on Governance, Punctuation and Authoritarian Populism. Promise, Threat and Revocability as Modalities of Governance. (Chaterjee, Chamorro, Montero). The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology. 41 (1): 87-97.

2022b. Homo Saccharine. In Ceremony (Burial of an Undead World). Catalogue. Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt-Berlin.

2022a. Camera Fog: Or the Pendulum of Austerity in Contemporary Portugal. Errans: Going Astray, Being Adrift, Coming to Nothing, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey and Arnd Wedemeyer, Cultural Inquiry, 24 (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press), pp. 113–140

2021d. The Charismatic Gymnasium: Breath, Media and Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press.

2021c. The Anti-giraffe in Qui Parle. Vol 30(1). June Issue.

2021b. Rabble Rousers without Exception. Cultural Anthropology Hotspots: American Fascism.

2021a. On Twisted Logics and the Pandemic. Material Religion Network.

2020b .Acts is Acts: Tautology and Theo-political Form in Social Analysis. The International Journal of Anthropology. Vol 64(4): 42-59.

2020a. State of Extremes. Political Theology Network.

2019b Above All, Before Anything: No Decision. Immanent Frame.

2019a. “Medium Theory; Or the War of the Words at Regular Intervals.” Current Anthropology 60, no. 5. Pp 650-673.

2018. “May Day Supermarket: Crisis, Impasse, Medium.” Critical Inquiry 44, no. 4: Pp 745–765.

2017. Coauthor with Charles Hirschkind and Carlo Caduff. “New Media, New Publics?” Introduction to supplement, Current Anthropology 58, no. 15: 3–12.

2015 a). "Still Passing: Crisis, Youth and the Political Economy of Fog in Limbo." Special issue, Scapegoat: Landscape, Architecture, Political Economy 8: 60–70. 

2015b. “Worldings: the Aesthetics of Authority Among Catholic Charismatics in Brazil. Journal of Culture and Religion 16, no. 2: 175–192.

2013a “Pessoalidade ou a Terra do Não Lugar da Performance.” In Terra do Não Lugar: Diálogos entre Antropologia e a Performance. Florianópolis: Universidade Federal Santa Catarina.

2013b. “Technological Indeterminacy: Threat, Medium, Temporality.” Anthropological Theory 13 (3:) 267–284.

2012a. “The Fedex Saints: Patrons of Mobility and Speed in the Neoliberal City.” In Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality. New York: Fordham University Press.

2012b. “TV-St. Claire.” In Deus in Machina: Exploring Religion, Technology and the Things in Between. New York: Fordham University Press.

2011. “Personhood in Frequencies.” Frequencies: A Collaborative Genealogy of Spirituality 

2008. “Goose Bumps All Over: Breath, Media, Tremor.” Special issue, Social Text 26, no. 3: 59–78.

2005. Breathing into the Heart of the Matter. Journal Postscripts: Sacred Texts. 1 (2/3) 277-300

2002. “On Charisma, Mediation and Broken Screens.” Etnofoor xv, no. 1/2: 240–258.

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