Page 19 - Shamanism
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Boas studied the indigenous peoples of the Canadian and American northwest coast, such as the 
Alaskan Inuit and Siberian ethnic groups. In his expedition to the North Paciic (1897–1902), 

Waldemar Bogoras and Waldemar Jochelson accompanied Boas and reported on the shamanic 
practices of Arctic peoples. Their indings indicated that these shamans were of the “psychopathic” 

type, who performed a specialized function in tribal society (Grim 1983, 17). They also observed 
that this Arctic shamanism was based on archaic religious experience, the practice of which had in- 
deed originated in North Asia. In other words, Boas and his students took a diffusionist view of 

cultural phenomena: Shamanism passes from one culture to another and changes its forms, func- 
tions, and meanings. In other research on Native American societies in the irst half of the twenti- 

eth century, Robert Lowie in his study of the Crow Indians advanced the theory that shamanism is 
one of the signiicant facets of “primordial” religion, and Paul Radin described the “psychopathic” 

condition of the shamans of the eastern Woodland tribes, especially Siouan Winnebago (Grim 
1983, 18).

Whatever the limitations of their approach, the signiicant point is that these early twentieth- 
century researchers were the irst anthropologists who seriously studied the religious phenomena 

of tribal societies in North America, despite the inappropriateness of the terminology they used 
(such as “primordial,” “primitive,” or “psychopathic”). Following Boas’s example, Knud Ras- 

mussen also studied shamans and shamanic rituals among the Inuit of Greenland and Alaska in 
the 1920s and 1940s, and his work provides useful historical data for Inuit shamans at that time. 

Following the American anthropological tradition initiated by Boas, most of the entries in this en- 
cyclopedia are written based on ethnographic studies from the authors’ own ieldwork and other 

relevant empirical materials, which have been analyzed and interpreted from the perspectives of 
the respective cultural traditions.

Russian Studies of Shamanism

The development of Russian studies of shamanism followed quite different paths from the work in 

America, although both considered ethnographic and empirical data as centrally important. As 
Siberia started to be intensively colonized by the Russians, starting in the seventeenth century, 

shamanism in the region was suppressed by the Christian missionaries as part of the process of 
colonial Russiication. During the Soviet era (at least from the 1920s to the 1970s), shamans were 

severely persecuted directly by the government, through social isolation, purges, and extermina- 
tion policies. This persecution was based on the cultural evolutionary theories of Marx and Engels, 

who viewed shamanism, like any forms of religion, as superstition and destined to end in alien- 
ation from the common good. Being treated as class enemies, thousands of shamans were arrested 

and deported from their homes, often dying in gulags, with a subsequent loss in the rich oral tra- 
dition of Siberian shamanism (Glavatskaya 2001, 245).
In such a political climate, Soviet scholars of shamanism described shamans in rather negative 

terms, as hypnotizers of susceptible believers, for example, or malicious deceivers, or rich exploiters 
of their people (Balzer 1997, xiv). In Soviet museums, Marjorie Balzer, an American scholar, noted 

that shaman igures with insane and frightening appearances had been made and displayed in pub- 
lic as evil religious igures. Another limitation of Soviet scholarship, noted by ̊ke Hultkrantz, was 

that their studies contained very few references to sources published outside the former Soviet 
Union (probably due to lack of access to this research); hence much Russian scholarly work gives 

the impression that shamanism only existed in the Soviet area, with some extension to Lapland 
and northern Alaska and Canada (Hultkrantz 1993, 4). Nevertheless, Soviet researchers did record 

and gather ethnographic materials as historical data or for the purpose of comparative cultural 
studies. These numerous data were catalogued and kept in the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) 

Museum and other museums, though without much analysis. Yet Vilmos Díszegi, a notable 
Hungarian scholar on Siberian Tungus shamanism, realized the urgency of keeping the records of 

disappearing religions and used the vital data for his interpretive studies for shamanism in North 
Asia (Grim 1983, 22).

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