Ritual Healing and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Navajo Society

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Abstract

Ritual healing and identity politics interact on three levels in contemporary Navajo society: representation of Navajo identity in relation to the dominant Euro-American society, interaction among religious healing traditions within Navajo society, and transformation of individual experience with respect to dignity and self-worth as a Navajo. The first is illustrated with two events: an epidemic ofhanta virus and a serious drought. The second is examined with respect to the coexistence of traditional Navajo healing, Native American Church healing, and Navajo Christian faith healing. The third is discussed in terms of case studies of Navajo patients who have used these forms of heal ing. These levels constitute a framework for analyzing the relation between healing and identity politics that is potentially more nuanced than either the position that ritual healing is a futile expression of frustration—the opiate of the masses interpretation—or that ritual healing is a subtle form of political resistance—the postmodern liberation of the indigenous voice interpretation. Future studies using such a framework could begin to distinguish more clearly between a personal politics of collective identity, in which individual actors with clear commitments struggle to assert a shared identity, and a collective politics of personal identity, in which each actor among a group of actors with ambiguous commitments struggles to attain individual identity, [religion, healing, ritual, identity politics, Navajo, Native American Church, Christianity]

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