What does Siberian Shamanism do for the Academic Study of Religion?

Nikanorova, Liudmila (2023). What does Siberian Shamanism do for the Academic Study of Religion? Implicit Religion: Journal for the Critical Study of Religion, 24(3-4) pp. 423–441.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.23253


This article will problematize shamanism as an analytical category and challenge it through a critical reading of scholarship about the area that has attracted scholars and travelers in search of Siberian shamanism—Sakha Sire [Sakha: ‘Sakha Land’], currently known as the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. The term ‘shaman’ entered European and then global imaginations and vocabularies through the writings of eighteenth-century travelers and missionaries. I argue that the term was initially reserved for Siberian practitioners to mark their assumed ethnic and civilizational differences. With the added -ism, shamanism became one of the imagined commonalities of people grouped by Eurocentric thinkers into “tribal,” “primitive,” and “aboriginal.” The translation and categorization of Sakha practitioners oiuun to shamans resulted not only in exotification and dehumanization of Sakha practitioners, but also in their imprisonment during the Soviet regime. As this article will argue, the study of Siberian shamanism tells us more about colonial scholarships on shamanism than about the practices and people who inhabit the imagined region of Siberia.

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