Indiana University Bloomington
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Mongol Shamanism
Catalog number CEUS-U 320/520
Gy├Ârgy Kara

Mongol Shamanism and Folk Religion

What is shamanism, what is the role of the shaman in Mongolian communities? Is shamanism a religion? What is its relation to the whole of popular beliefs and cults? Who becomes a shaman or shamaness? What are the skills, tools and techniques he or she learns and uses? These and more questions will be discussed in the course that does not require the knowledge of Mongolian.

In the last eight centuries the Mongols embraced several dogmatic religions: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. From among these three world-religions Buddhism in its Tibetan form proved to be the dominant system for the majority of the Mongolian-speaking peoples. In spite of suppression and persecution, their primitive system of beliefs and practices called shamanism never ceased to exist, not even under the rule of the official atheist ideology of the near past, but in its struggle with Buddhism it has been transformed. It is a part of a highly syncretistic folk religion which is reviving after the fall of the totalitarian rule.

The main topics:  Religion as world view, interpretation of existence, system of knowledge, science and techniques, values, rules, and practices. Its changing role in the community/society from totality to particularity. Classification of religions by origin (indigenous/autochthonous vs borrowed; self-evolved vs created/founded/revealed, prophetic), by their focal ideas or doctrines (dogmatic vs acceptive), traditions (oral and/or written), pantheon (polytheistic vs monotheistic, theistic vs atheistic), myths, conceptions of the sacred, by their institutions (hieratic/sacerdotal vs demotic/popular, organized vs free/loose; inclusive vs exclusive, open vs closed/secret, ethnic/tribal/ local, national vs universal), cults, rites, ceremonies, magic, ethics. Dichotomy of macrocosm and microcosm, mortality and eternity, body and mind or soul. The quest for restoring the union. Syncretism, pluralism. Social background and relative autonomy of religious systems.