Winkelman, Michael

Winkelman, Michael – Professor in anthropology at Arizona State University, former president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and founder of the Anthropology of Religion Section of the American Anthropological Association. Winkelman’s research focuses on shamans and medical anthropology, with particular emphasis on neurotheology—the idea that the impulse behind shamanism and other religions originates in brain chemistry. Having demonstrated consistencies in shamanism and other healing practices across cultures (Shamans, Priests and Witches, 1992), Winkelman has explained (in Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing, 2000) such similarities in terms of a biological imperative: since all humans are capable of altering consciousness and such altered states of consciousness are derived from the human central nervous system, so shamanism specifically is “humanity’s original healing practice.” As such, he sees neoshamanisms as indicative of the persistent significance and pragmatism of altered consciousness in the psychobiology of healing, with particular value currently in substance abuse rehabilitation. Winkelman’s approach aligns with the shamanistic approach in rock art studies, which deploys neuropsychological data in order to analyze some rock art imagery as originating in altered consciousness. For postmodernist researchers, the danger with a psychobiological approach is of biological reductionism and the reification of metanarrative (e.g., shamanism as the origin of religion), but proponents of the shamanistic approach to rock art in particular tend to embed the broader psychobiological research in specific community contexts in order to embrace cultural diversity.


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


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