Balzer, Majorie Mandelstam

Balzer, Majorie Mandelstam (1950– ) Research professor at Georgetown University in the Sociology/Anthropology Department and the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies (CERES), where she coordinates the Social, Ethnic, and Regional Issues concentration. As a social-cultural anthropologist, Balzer has done fieldwork in the Russian Federation, especially among the ObUgrian Khanty (Ostiak, also called Yugra) of Western Siberia beginning in 1976, and the Sakha (also called Yakut) of Eastern Siberia since 1986. Among her many publications concerned with these regions, social theory, interethnic relations, religion, and the growth of nationalism, some are concerned with shamans and shamanism, especially in Siberia and the Sakha Republic. In Shamanism: Soviet Studies of Traditional Religion in Siberia and Central Asia, she published translations of the work of four Soviet scholars who “begin from the Marxist-Leninist premise that shamanism (like all religion) is obsolete. But they also concede that traditional shamans improved poetry, entertainment, psychotherapy, and occasionally even cures and genuine leadership for their communities.” Her publications include important contributions to debates about shamans and their roles and performances, as well as constructions of gender. Just as Caroline Humphrey and Urgunge Onon demonstrate that Daur Mongol shamans (yadgan) are remade by initiation into beings closer to other-than-human persons or spirits than to human beings, so Balzer supports Maria Czaplicka and Bernard Saladin d’Anglure’s demonstration that shamans are commonly a “third class” or gender that may mediate between other persons. Her discussion of bear ceremonialism also contributes to discussion of animist human relationships with other-than-human persons, power animals, and, perhaps, totems.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007