Shamanism: An Inquiry into the History of the Scholarly Use of the Term in English-Speaking North America

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Abstract

In this paper, I discuss the results of a large-scale archival and data base research project that investigated the history of the scholarly use of the terms shamanism and shaman in English-speaking North America. This was done to provide a historical grounding in the hope of arriving at an operationally sound definition of the term. Twomajor findings emerged from the data: first, current uses of the terms shamanism and shaman are inadequate for any discussion of the phenomenon from a historical perspective; second, the terms shamanism and shaman have been widely used in English-speaking North America by researchers, scholars, scientists, and lay people for more than a 100 years, and the use of the term has changed greatly in this time, complicating any possibility of arriving at an agreed-upon operational definition. I discuss these two research findings and how they fit into contemporary uses of the terms, concluding that current definitions and understandings of this phenomenon are unduly circumscribed, largely the result of historical research orientations. I then suggest future research questions and call for a concise, workable understanding of the phenomenon of shamanism.

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