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Title: Shaminism : history, discourse and modernity
Author: Alberts, Thomas Karl
Awarding Body: SOAS, University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2013
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This research considers the emergence in history of a discourse about shamans. Beginning with the prevalent claim that shamans have existed in all human societies throughout history, the initial question is: how did a kind of ritual specialist first reported in Siberia in the seventeenth century become the eponymous category of a universalisable religiosity? My project is anchored by the argument that the simultaneity of epistemological practice that tends to produce universal structures with an ontological practice that tends to deconstruct universals into embodied contingencies, together illustrate the double-hinge on which pivots modern subjectivity. According to Foucault's reading of Kant, this double-hinged subjectivity is instantiated in a practical limit attitude that in turn establishes a selfperpetuating dialectic, a perpetual motion dynamo animating and innervating modern history. This thesis argues that the simultaneously particularising and universalising tendencies of statements about shamans are part and parcel of modernity's practical limit attitude, and can be seen in the proliferations and intensifications of shamanism discourse since the eighteenth century. Chapter Two considers this problem from a genealogical perspective, with reference to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia. Subsequent chapters consider shamanism's imbrications with other discursive fields. With reference to the indigenist movement for human rights (Chapter Three), environmentalist critiques of anthropocentrism (Chapter Four), and neoliberal governmentality in self-conduct as much as the conduct of states (Chapter Five), structural transformations in these respective fields have variously sustained and stimulated new proliferations, intensifications and circulations of shamanism, and have contributed to the reported revival of shamanic religiosity since the 1990s. This argument takes seriously Arjun Apparudai's recommendation to pay attention to the 'mundane discourses' of global cultural flows, and is conceived as a contribution towards both the sociology of religion and critical-theoretical approaches to studying religion. Regarding the former, this research demonstrates shamanism is a highly adaptive and productive discourse for a diverse assemblage of actors with interests in tapping shamanism's significatory potential. Regarding the latter, shamanism is demonstrated to be a highly productive subject for reflexive studies of contemporary religiosity, including strategies for circumscribing interests, authorising representations, and legitimating practices.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral