chapter  9
22 Pages

From cosmology to environmentalism

Shamanism as local knowledge in a global setting
WithPiers Vitebsky

This chapter focuses in particular on two developments: the individualistic psychologization of religion and environmentalist activism in the public domain. In the jungles and the tundra, shamanism is dying. An intensely local kind of knowledge is being abandoned in favour of various kinds of knowledge which are cosmopolitan and distant-led. Meanwhile, something called shamanism thrives in western magazines, sweat lodges and weekend workshops. The New Age movement, which includes this strand of neo-shamanism, is in part a rebellion against the principle of distant-led knowledge. Shamanism in turn is a form of 'indigenous knowledge'. Abroad, indigenous knowledge may infiltrate and subvert the knowledge of industrial society, and in this it is aided by a loss of nerve at the centre of industrial society which leads its members to appropriate, for instance, shamanic motifs as part of their own radical selfcritique.