new member interested in shamanism

Wed, 9 Nov 1994 12:12:48 -0600

Actually, not so new. I've been subscribing for the last six
or eight weeks. I am a specialist in religion, not
anthropology (one of those "damn humanists," as you say
in this corner of cyberspace :-)). I have a doctorate from
Harvard University (1988) and teach at a small liberal arts
college in Iowa. My main research interests are the Bible,
the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jewish mysticism, although I
have also taught courses on Islam, Asian religions, and
Classics. I joined this list because I have been working for
a while on a project that involves shamanism, and I would
like to make contact with anthropologists who share my

This interest comes from my study of pre-Kabbalistic (4th-10
century C.E.) Jewish mysticism (also called Merkavah
mysticism or Hekhalot literature) and a growing conviction
that it can best be understood as a form of shamanism. For
the last couple of years I have been working on a project
that compares these Jewish mystical texts to shamanic
institutions in Inuit, Lakota/Dakota (Sioux), Siberian, and
Japanese religions. My working definition of shaman is
that of Hultkrantz (one who controls the spirits on behalf of
a community) rather than Eliade's (one who has ecstatic
visions). For Inuit religion I am using material from Knud
Rasmussen, as well as the more recent synthetic studies of
Daniel Merkur. For Lakota religion I have been
concentrating on the material collected by James Walker,
as well as the books on/by Nick and Wallace Black Elk,
along with a few other things. For Japanese shamanism I
am mostly using the publications of Carmen Blacker and
Ichiro Hori. And I've found a lot of different sources for
Siberian shamanism. I have published an article on this
project in the _Society of Biblical Literature Seminar
Papers_ for 1994 and it will be discussed in the Divine
Mediator Figures in Antiquity Group at the national
meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago later
this month. (I would be happy to send a hard copy to anyone
who would like to see it, and, hopefully, give me comments.)

As I said, I would like to make contact with anyone
working on shamanism, as well as on Siberian, Inuit,
Lakota, or Japanese religions, who would be willing to/
interested in offering me some specialist's guidance as I
work on synthesizing data from these traditions for what I
hope will be a fairly important final work. I am painfully
aware of the difficulties and pitfalls of attempting this kind
of broad-based inquiry that requires control and synthesis of
data from a broad range of fields. Nonetheless, I have a
firm convicition that it is in the long term interest of all of
us that such projects be tackled. I am also not insensitive to
the political issues involved with using Native American
materials outside their cultural context to illuminate
western religious traditions. Again, help in dealing with
this issue from Native scholars would be much appreciated.

Thanks for your help in advance. Please reply privately or
on-list, as you think appropriate.

Jim Davila
assistant professor of religion
Central College, IA