Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Religion / not religion – a discourse analysis


In the study of indigenous religions, one of the issues a scholar faces is the gap between self-representation and scholarly classification, particularly with regard to the concept of ‘religion’. So how does the scholar of religion approach this issue? Shamanism is an interesting example, one which illustrates this problem, as this term was also coined by scholars, derived from one group in Siberia and applied cross-culturally to others, which then influenced diverse peoples to adopt the term when describing their traditions to outsiders, often in distinction to what is regarded as ‘religion’.
‘Shaman’, from šamān, a specialist among the Evenki (Tungus), became the prototype, the model, on which to judge similar roles in other societies. Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism:Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy was published in English in 1964, and it has been difficult to get away from his conception of shamanism ever since. He employs a comparative approach that draws examples from a wide range of cultures. Since then, ‘shaman’ has been used as a ‘catch-all’ designation for a variety of specialists among indigenous communities from Siberia to South America. For Eliade, shamanism is a ‘technique’ rather than a religion per se, emphasizing its universality as a set of practices found in many traditions.
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