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.”

Historical dictionary of shamanism. . 2007.

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