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Shamans, Priests and Healers

This seminar combined critical issues of medical and political anthropology, by focusing on a range of indigenous communities, their contested worldviews, changing healing practices, and spiritual leaders. Diverse and controversial questions were probed. What is the relationship between individual and community healing? How and why are concepts of body-mind integration significant cross-culturally? How are cultural revitalization movements begun and sustained? What are the flashpoints of intercultural conflict in colonial and post-colonial contexts? How do people perceive and discuss sources of religious and spiritual authority? What are the roots of ‘religion’? What is the shifting relevance of gender in religious leadership? Why are some religions considered ‘world religions’ while others are not? How can we compare and contrast shamans, priests, healers, and ‘medicine men?’ How are local and academic concepts of authenticity, confidentiality, and secrecy constructed and debated? These questions were explored through a survey of anthropology literature, including indigenous scholarship, on ‘folk healing,’ spirituality, missionaries, sacred sites, and the politics of religion. Readings covered classics and recent literature, with emphasis on Eurasia and Native North America. Readings from other regions enhanced comparisons. Analytical approaches featured in-depth study of selected cases, with sensitivity to cultural change, interethnic relations, and degrees of indigeneity. Students were welcome to bring special interests into class discussions through research projects and personal experience with indigenous, “integrative,” or “complementary” medicine. This course (ANTH-352) was taught by Marjorie Mandestam Balzer, Center for East European and Russian Studies and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, as a Doyle Seminar (small upper-level classes that foster deepened student learning about diversity and difference through research and dialogue).

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Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer headshot

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

Faculty Fellow
Department of Anthropology