Page 10 - Shamanism
P. 10



When Mircea Eliade wrote his major work on shamanism in 1951, he set himself the goal 
of reading every existing publication on the subject. He compiled a list of some six 

hundred items, the largest part consisting of articles in Russian. By the time Eliade re- 
counted this memory in 1985, he reckoned that more than 2,000 book-length studies of shaman- 

ism had appeared in the intervening thirty-four years as well as countless scholarly articles in many 
languages—more than an individual can cover. Eliade’s Shamanism, still in print today, intensiied 

enthusiasm for the subject by challenging the prevalent view that shamanism was a mental illness. 
Instead, he interpreted the dramatic trances, ecstatic visions, and extravagant behaviors as signs of 

a life-transforming spiritual experience with a wide range of profound consequences beneicial to 
self and society.

Far from sating the appetite for shamanism, the amazing surge of interest in shamanism among 
pundits and in pop culture over the past two decades has generated greater interest still—a curious 

fate for a religious expression once deemed archaic, pathological, and approaching oblivion. No 
longer can one person fully absorb the explosion of ideas about shamanism coming from such dis- 

tinct ields as, for example, neurobiology, pharmacology, and gender studies.
Shamanism serves, in this respect, as a parable for religious life more broadly in our day. Even as 

the death knell of religions sounded in the halls of the academy and in other strongholds of secular 
policy throughout the twentieth century—based on psychological, economic, or sociological theo- 

ries—religious fervor continued in circles disvalued by scholars or, more remarkably, renewed itself 
in the face of prevailing efforts at secularization. As with so many aspects of religious life, a mix of 
intellectual curiosity and spiritual seeking has churned up a sea of information about shamanism 

and produced a lood of interpretations regarding its practices, experiences, and overall meaning. 
The study of religion and shamanism has grown apace with the awareness of the vitality of reli- 

gious life. The subject of shamanism has long called for an encyclopedic treatment, but the subject 
has proven increasingly daunting due as much to the breadth of its manifestations as to the difi- 

culty of specifying its precise nature.
The great accomplishment of Mariko Walter and Eva Fridman is twofold. They irst of all em- 

brace the rich and fascinating complexity of shamanism, assembling in one place the evidence 
from cultures throughout the world and presenting this rich diversity in arrangements accessible to 

scholars and general readers alike. In the second place, they include the full range of important 
perspectives on the topic, inviting the best ethnographic specialists to describe what they know 

about shamanism from irsthand ield studies, as well as asking philosophical writers and religious 
thinkers to relect more broadly on the meaning of such behaviors and beliefs. Ingeniously, they 

have also commissioned creative commentaries on the relationship of shamanic experience to such 
distinct domains as dreams and drama, art and music, clothing and governance. In this landmark 

new work, Walter and Fridman take care to address the broad cultural interest in shamanism and,


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