Monday Night Lecture Series - Wesleyan University

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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities


Many Paths to the Great Spirit: Recontextualizing the New Age Appropriation of Indigenous Shamanism

Many Paths to the Great Spirit: Recontextualizing the New Age Appropriation of Indigenous Shamanism

JUSTINE QUIJADA • Wesleyan University

May 1 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center

From the New York Shamanic Circle practicing in Central Park to New Age pilgrims visiting shamanic festivals on Lake Baikal in Siberia, the New Age movement forms a global network that shapes the conditions under which indigenous religion is practiced. Indigenous people have a wide range of reactions, from those who consider New Age practices a form of cultural theft to those who see it as a potential source of income and power in an emerging global marketplace. Are indigenous religious practices therefore "intellectual property"? And if so, how does the category of intellectual property intersect with popular definitions of religion? Defining religion as a set of universal beliefs constructs religion as inherently decontextualizable. Both indigenous practitioners, New Age practitioners and scholars tend to assume that when indigenous practices are borrowed they are "decontextualized," i.e. taken out of their original indigenous context and rendered "universal" and therefore accessible to anyone. This assumption, seeing the West as 'universal' and the indigenous as 'context-specific' replicates the power inequality that enables the borrowing in the first place, the very inequality which scholars seek to critique. Drawing on examples from both fieldwork and New Age publications, I ask what can we see by looking at these practices as re-contextualized by those who borrow them? What are the logics of the New Age context into which they are being borrowed? How do ideas of the 'universal' or the 'indigenous' work within this context as a label that renders something subject to appropriation?

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