Vitebsky, Piers

Vitebsky, Piers – Anthropologist and head of social sciences at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Great Britain. Vitebsky has written a detailed ethnography of the Sora of India and conducted research in Siberia (the recent The Reindeer People [2005]) and Sri Lanka and has also written one of the most useful single-volume introductions to the practices and contexts of shamans. In The Shaman (1995), he introduces a wide range of cultures and debates, along with invaluable photographic and textual material. Additionally, in a 1995 article on the Sakha (Yakut) discussing the relationship between shamanism and environmentalism, he sets out four “key characteristics which it is reasonable to see as distinctively shamanic” and elaborates on shamanism’s “local, holistic, eristic and dissident” features. This setting out of key characteristics and use of “the shaman” in the singular might initially be read as a monolithic understanding of “shamanism,” yet his insistence on the diversity of shamanic phenomena and their engagement with varied social and political contexts is important, especially in contrast with the tendency of scholars such as Mircea Eliade and neoshamanic practitioners to construct universal and “spiritual” definitions. Vitebsky eloquently writes, “Shamanism is a chameleon-like phenomenon, reappearing across diverse regional traditions, in varied historical and political settings, and co-existing, sometimes uneasily, with major world religions.”

SOURCE:

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

BOOKS FOR YOU TO READ IN OUR LIBRARY:

Related Articles

Environmentalism

Environmentalism – Shamans cannot strictly be identified as environmentalists because, as animists, they are members of a large community of life rather than being surrounded…

Sakha

Sakha – Sakha may refer to peoples known as the Sakha (formerly Yakut) living in the Sakha region (Yakutia) in northeast Siberia; the Sakha language,…

South and East Asia

South and East Asia – Piers Vitebsky illustrates the wide variety of practices that might be called “shamanism” in this religiously, geographically, ethnically, and politically…

India

India – Piers Vitebsky argues that “shamanism [in India and widely throughout South and East Asia] is often the religion of earlier, aboriginal tribes” but…

Humphrey, Caroline

Caroline Humphrey (1943– ) – Professor of anthropology at Cambridge University. Humphrey has carried out research in Siberia and Mongolia in the Soviet and post-Soviet…