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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM SIBERIAN SHAMANS?, a lecture with Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

  • Friday, October 11, 2019
  • 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Library, St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, 4700 Whitehaven Pkwy NW, Washington, DC 20007
  • 0


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Nostalgia is rife in Siberia for the pre-Soviet days when powerful shamans, in control of a panoply of spirits traveling across multiple layers of the universe, could cure sufferers during deeply dramatic and transforming community-wide séances. Poignant stories abound of lost knowledge: the shaman who died knowing where a special plant that could have cured his cancer used to be located, “just at the edge of the village airport,” and just beyond the edge of our current medical practices and perceptions. Another depicts the shaman who died several days before a repentant Soviet doctor returned to probe the healer’s renowned, yet earlier rejected, understanding of an illness known in the ethnographic literature by the infelicitous term of “Arctic hysteria.” Such stories are told with sorrow by the Sakha (Yakut) of Russia’s Far East, from whom I have been learning since the early 1980s, and they can be understood on multiple levels. As a new generation of healers has turned to elders and spirits for guidance, some exciting accounts of "miracle cures" have begun to supplant the litanies of loss.  This talk, based on anthropological fieldwork, emphasizes these more positive narratives, as we explore how individual and community cures can emerge from cultural revitalization and holistic approaches to healing.

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer is Research Professor in the School of Foreign Service and co-convener of the Indigenous Studies working group ( A Faculty Fellow in the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, she has been at Georgetown since 1987 in the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES) and the Anthropology Department, and has twice been a Doyle Faculty Fellow.  She is editor of the Taylor and Francis journal Anthropology and Archeology of Eurasia and is author or editor of six books on Russia, Central Asia and the Circumpolar North.  Her research interests focus on the intersections of religion, politics, ecology, human rights and comparative Indigenous activism.  Her current book manuscript, based on fieldwork in three republics, is Galvanizing Nostalgia: Indigeneity, Sovereignty and Spirituality in Siberia.


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