Anthropology | Shamanism and Spirit Possession
E307 | 0464 | Girshick
This course will examine anthropological approaches to shamanism
and other religious phenomena involving altered states of
consciousness. Special attention will be paid to the analysis of
the rituals in which these phenomena occur.
Using readings from a wide range of cultures, we will ask questions
such as: What kind of person is drawn to be a shaman? Is he/she
mentally ill, formerly mentally ill, unusual or different from the
society in any way? Why do shamans need to go into trances? Are
hallucinogens essential for trance and what is their effect? Do
shamanic cures really work? How do shamanic cures relate to our
Western ones? What happens to a person when he/she gets possessed?
Is it different from what happens to a shaman? Why is it mainly
women who get possessed? How do glossolalia and channelling
compare with shamanism and spirit possession? How do they fit into
our culture? Why don't WE have shamans and spirit mediums (or do
Course Requirements: (1) participation in one of a series of group
class presentations dealing with issues and controversies that have
arisen in the study of shamanism and other altered stages of
consciousness; (2) a mid-term paper that will allow you to go into
depth on shamanism in one particular area; (3) a final paper that
is more general and can involve choosing one of the topics that we
have covered in the course (e.g. psychological rituals, gender and
spirit possession, the Castenada controversy, etc.) or can involve
selecting a topic that we have not discussed, such as the
biological basis of altered states of consciousness, shamanism and
art, approaches to demonic possession, shamanism as theater, etc.
(4) a final exam in take-home format.
If you have any questions about the course you can e-mail me at
email@example.com (from January-June 1999) and
firstname.lastname@example.org (from July on).