Article

Shamanism

Donald Pollock

in Anthropology


Published online October 2015 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567.016.0132

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Shamanism has been regarded as one of the world’s oldest religions as well as one of its newest; evidence of shamanic practice has been found in Paleolithic cave art, and shamanic experiences are being cultivated in contemporary societies, especially in its “New Age” or neoshamanism variations. The narrowest conceptions of shamanism restrict the use of the term to a specific form of religious practice found in Siberia, where the Tungus religious practitioner called šamán provided the model; Mircea Eliade’s 1964 classic study of shamanism (see History of Shamanism and Shamanism Studies) grants historical and conceptual priority to this form of belief and practice, and traces its spread from those Siberian roots. Alternatively, it has been argued that the concept of shamanism should be extended to a nearly universal set of beliefs about spirits, spiritism, and occult realms. Bean 1992, for example (cited under North American and Native American Shamanism), comments that “Shamanism is the religion of all hunting and gathering cultures, and it forms the basis of many more formalized religions that retain shamanistic elements” (p. 8). Anthropologists have often adopted this broader perspective, seeking similarities among overtly different traditions typically by linking them according to the social functions served by shamans (e.g., healing through spirit intervention, community protection from malign spirit attack, and the pursuit of community political goals through the medium of spiritism). This bibliography adopts the relatively broad view that “shamanism” is a useful concept to describe a set of religious phenomena of historical depth and wide ethnographic extent, and that there is value in considering how a range of beliefs and practices are related to a basic set of defining characteristics, along with their relationship to other social and cultural phenomena. “Shamanism” has been recently described as a form of interaction between a practitioner and spirits, one that is not available to other members of a community; the practitioner (a “shaman”) acts on behalf of that community—or on behalf of individual members of that community—to perform a variety of social roles that may include healing as well as harming, affecting the outcome of subsistence activities, and so on, by intervention with spirits or through knowledge gained by communication with spirits (see Webb 2013 under the Nature of Shamanism, p. 62). As such, shamans are found in a variety of cultures that are not traditionally associated with the concept, for example as spirit mediums in sub-Saharan Africa and through spirit possession in East Asia. This bibliography considers these themes through sections on the history of the concept itself, studies of the nature of shamanism, and analyses of shamanism in various cultures around the world.

Article.  10335 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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