This book offers a major contribution to the study and analysis of divination, based on continuing fieldwork with the Mambila in Cameroon. It seeks to return attention to the details of divinatory practice, using the questions asked and life histories to help understand the perspective of the clients rather than that of the diviners.

Drawing on a corpus of more than 600 cases, David Zeitlyn reconsiders theories of divination and compares Mambila spider divination with similar systems in the area. A detailed case study is examined and analysed using conversational analytic principles. The regional comparison considers different kinds of explanation for different features of social organization, leading to a discussion of the continuing utility of moderated functionalism.

The book will be of interest to area specialists and scholars concerned with religion, rationality, and decision-making from disciplines including anthropology, African studies, and philosophy.

chapter 1|20 pages

Introduction: divination studies in the 21st century

Setting the research agenda

part one|86 pages


chapter 2|20 pages

Techniques of divination

Studies in interpretation

chapter 3|16 pages

Finding meaning in the text

The process of interpretation in text-based divination: Leavis in the bush

chapter 4|22 pages

Spiders in and out of court

Styles of spider divination in their sociological contexts

chapter 5|26 pages

Divinatory logics

How diagnoses and predictions mediate outcomes

part two|52 pages


chapter 6|24 pages

Mambila divination

chapter 7|26 pages

Case studies

Logic in action

part three|48 pages


chapter 8|13 pages

Framing questions

Does divination pay attention to pragmatics?

chapter 9|18 pages

A sociology of problems

chapter 10|15 pages

Divination in life histories