Wallis, Robert J.

Wallis, Robert J. (1972– ) – Associate professor of visual culture at Richmond University in London, where he coordinates the master’s program in art history, and associate lecturer in the humanities with the Open University. Wallis has published extensively on shamanistic art, including critical discussions of the shamanistic approach to rock art. He argues that, while critics have accurately bemoaned the monolithic application of “shamanism” to various rock art traditions, the origin of some rock art imagery in altered states of consciousness is widely accepted among rock art researchers, with the shamanistic approach proposed by Thomas Dowson embracing the diversity of shamans and offering more nuanced and sophisticated interpretations than such previous explanations as “hunting magic” and “art for art’s sake.” Having held a research fellowship in archaeology and coordinated the master’s in the archaeology and anthropology of rock art at the University of Southampton, Wallis also specializes in the representation of the past in the present, particularly among neo-shamans and contemporary Pagans, and he has published widely on neo-shamanic engagements with archaeology and indigenous communities. Wallis suggests that neo-shamans have been dismissed too easily by scholars as fringe and inauthentic, pointing to Western practitioners whose worldviews compare favorably with indigenous shamans, and he argues that we should take neo-shamanic engagements with anthropology and archaeology seriously. Building on this research, Wallis is currently codirecting the Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights: Contemporary Pagan Engagements with the Past project with Jenny Blain, a collaboration of archaeology and anthropology. Wallis and Blain theorize about what a sacred site is, examine the emergence of sacred sites in heritage management discourse, and point to the variety of alternative perspectives on the past with which archaeologists, heritage managers, and other professionals must now constructively engage, foregrounding the issue of animism and living landscapes as emerging worldviews among neo-shamans and other “new-indigenes.” Wallis and Blain have also collaborated on research discussing neo-shamans and gender, and the performance of neo-shamanic ritual. In his current work, Wallis is critically examining the discourse on shamans and image making, ranging from prehistoric cave art to contemporary art.


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