Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Descriptions

GLS 522: Shamanism

Instructor: Patricia Lerch

Purpose of course:

Shamanism is a popular topic for several reasons. First, some scholars think that shamanism (communication via an altered state of consciousness with a culturally constructed realm of the supernatural) and animism (the belief in spiritual beings) may have been typical of the earliest human religion. Secondly, shamanism and animism survive within nation-states today; this makes shamanism/animism one of the world's religions. Thirdly, ethno botanists and environmentalists assume that shamans have knowledge about plants that may hold cures to AIDS and other world diseases.

We will explore the topic through assigned readings and papers. I hope to cover some of the following topics:

  1. What is shamanism? What is animism?
  2. Is shamanism an ancient religion? If so, how did it survive until now?
  3. Who becomes a shaman? How? Why?
  4. What are the various forms shamanism takes today?
  5. Where does the shaman get his/her power?
  6. How does shamanism relate to the state?
  7. What plants are used in shamanism?
  8. What is an altered state of consciousness and how is it related to shamanism?
  9. Cultural examples: Tlingit shamanism, Yanomamo shamanism, Huichol shamanism, Hmong shamanism, nats and spirit mediums in Burma, and Brazilian shamanistic and mediumistic religions.

What are the requirements?

  1. Attend all the classes and participate vigorously in the discussions.
  2. Write one 2-page reflection paper per week.
  3. Write one 10 -page (8-9 text and one - two page for bibliography) research paper to be presented at the end of the course.Both an oral presentation and a written version are required.

Research Bibliography

All of the books on this bibliography are in Randall Library. Select from this list for your research paper.


These articles and books are on Reserve for you in Randal Library. You can find them the online electronic reserve under the course number and/or my name. If you don't find anything listed now, try again in a couple of days (today's date: May 2, 2005). I put them on Electronic Reserve and/or regular reserve, so check with the reserve desk if you don't see a particular paper on Electronic reserve. You can print copies of the Electronic reserve papers at the library.

Research Paper:

  1. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. by Joseph Gibaldi. is an excellent tool for learning how to research and write a research paper. Follow the guidelines for citing references suggested in this book or one on a similar topic.
  2. The paper must be typed, double spaced, paged numbered, referenced and stapled together.
  3. Use the Research Bibliography to get ideas and sources. ALL of these books are in Randall Library. (see above link)
  4. Topic of Paper: This can be of your choice and interest. It must related to shamanism. You may use some of the readings that have been assigned for the course in your research paper. You MUST go beyond the assigned readings, too.
  5. Due date: June 20, 2005. You will also be presenting your research to the class on either June 15 or June 20.


May 23: Read before you come to class and try to answer the questions: What is
shamanism? Who is a shaman?
Read for class:
1. Jane Monnig Atkinson. "Shamanisms Today." Annual Review of Anthropology 1992. 21:307-30.
2. John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes. "Alone on a Hilltop." In Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. 1-6.
3. Alice Beck Kehoe. "Real Shamans." In Shamans and Religion. pp.7-19.

May 25: Think about the following question before you come to class: What is
animism and how does it relate to shamanism? First Reflection Paper due on
May 25. Your reflection paper will be presented to class during discussion of
Read for class:
1. Edward B. Tylor, "Animism." In Reader in Comparative Religion, pp. 9-19.
2. Waldemar Borgoras. "Shamanic Performance in the Inner Room." In Reader in Comparative Religion, 302-307.
3. Knud Rasmussen. "A Shaman's Journey to the Sea Spirit." In Reader in Comparative Religion, pp. 308-311.

June 1: Read the following articles, then write a 2-3 page reflection paper examining the pathway to shamanism.This second relflection paper is due June 1 and will be presented during our discussion. Who becomes a shaman? What is expected of him or her? What ordeals does the shaman undergo? Who teaches the shaman?
1. Bradford Keeney. Guarani Shamans of the Forest. (select one or two to read)
2. Ch'oe Kilsong. "Male and Female in Korean Folk Belief." Asian Folklore Studies, Vo. 43. No. 2 (1984), 227-233.
3. Michael Taussig. Ch. 28 "To Become a Healer." In Shamanism. A Study in Colonialism, and Terror and the Wild Man Healing. pp. 447-467.
4. Michael J. Harner. Ch. 2. "The Sounds of Rushing Water." In Hallucinogens and Shamanism, pp. 15-27.

June 6 and 8: What does the shaman do? What is the origin of his/her power? What role do plants play? What is an altered state of consciousness? How is it induced?Read the following articles and write your third reflection paper considering the above questions. This paper is due June 8.
1. James Dow. Ch. 3 "The Relationship between the Shaman and the Patient." In The Shaman's Touch. pp. 39-57.
2. Peter T. Furst. Ch. 11. "To Find Our Life": Peyote Hunt of the Huichols of Mexico." In Hallucinogens and Culture. pp. 120-133.
3. Michael Fobes Brown. "Dark Side of the Shaman." In Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion. (Edited by Lehmann, Myers), and Moro) pp. 168-171. New York: McGraw-Hill. (2005)
3. Michael Ripinsky-Naxon. Psychoactivity and Shamanic States of Consciousness. Yearbook for ethnomedicine and the study of consciousness. Vol. 4 (1995) pp. 35-43.

June 13: Altered states and drugs in shamanic experiences. Read the following papers and write your fourth relection paper on the subject of the role of hallucinogens in shamanic expereinces. Due June 13 and presented in our discussions.
1. Francis Huxley. "Drugs." In Magic, Witchcraft and Religion pp. 182-187. (edited by Lehmann, Myers, and Moro) New York: McGraw-Hill. 2005.
2. Michael Kiyaani and Thomas J. Csordas. "On the Peyote Road." In Magic, Witchcraft and Religion. pp. 188-190.

June 15: Presentation of student research

June 20: Presentation of student research

Last Update: February 3, 2012