An Anthropological Perspective

by H. Sidky (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 279 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 348


Religion: An Anthropological Perspective provides a critical view of religion focusing upon important but overlooked topics such as religion, cognition, and prehistory; science, rationality, and religion; altered states of consciousness, entheogens and religious experience; religion and the paranormal; magic and divination; religion and ecology; fundamentalism; and religion and violence. In addition, this book offers a unique and concise coverage of traditional topics of the anthropology of religion such as shamanism and witchcraft (past and present), ritual, myth, religious symbols, and revitalization movements. A vast range of findings from ethnography, ethnology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, prehistory, history, and cognitive science are brought to bear on the subject. Written in clear jargon-free prose, this book provides an accessible and comprehensive yet critical view of the anthropology of religion both for graduate and undergraduate students and general audiences. Its scope and critical scientific orientation sets Religion: An Anthropological Perspective apart from all other treatments of the subject.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Anthropology and Religion
  • Chapter Two: Religion, Cognition, and Prehistory
  • Chapter Three: Shamanism
  • Chapter Four: Altered States of Consciousness and Religion
  • Chapter Five: Entheogens and Religious Experience
  • Chapter Six: Witchcraft: Evil in Human Form
  • Chapter Seven: Magic and Divination
  • Chapter Eight: Religion and the Paranormal
  • Chapter Nine: Religion: Organization and Evolutionary Patterns
  • Chapter Ten: Religion and Ecology
  • Chapter Eleven: Ritual: The Practical Dimension of Religion
  • Chapter Twelve: Myth: The Narrative Dimension of Religion
  • Chapter Thirteen: Symbols: The Representational Dimension of Religion
  • Chapter Fourteen: Revitalization Movements and the Origins of Religion
  • Chapter Fifteen: Fundamentalism
  • Chapter Sixteen: Religion and Violence
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Figure 2.1 Drawing of the cave bear bones found in Drachenloch, Switzerland, once thought to be evidence of a bear cult among the Neanderthals.
Figure 2.2 Drawing of the “Sorcerer” from Les Trois Frères, France.
Figure 3.1 A Sherpa shaman in ritual outfit with drum.
Figure 3.2 A Tamang shaman on a soul journey to traffic with spirits and travel through the cosmos.
Figure 3.3 A Jirel shaman possessed by spirits.
Figure 3.4 A Siberian (Yukaghir) shaman in ritual outfit with drum.
Figure 4.1 A Hunzakutz bitan (medium) in an altered state of consciousness.
Figure 4.2 The Prophet Muhammad’s shaman-like journey (Mi’raj) to the seven heavens.
Figure 4.3 The Prophet Muhammad in an altered state of consciousness receiving revelations from the Archangel Gabriel.
Figure 4.4 A Nepalese shaman in an altered state of consciousness healing a woman afflicted by spirits.
Figure 4.5 A !Kung San curing ritual which illustrates the role of ASC in healing and social integration.
Figure 4.6 Relatives surround a possessed woman who is relating a message from a recently deceased relative in Jiri, Nepal. ← IX | X →
Figure 4.7 The execution of Urbain Grandier.
Figure 4.8 The Tibetan State Oracle in ritual garb possessed by the deity Dorje Drakden.
Figure 5.1 Peyote (Lophophora williamsii).
Figure 5.2 A Tarahumara shaman seated with peyote buds on cloth.
Figure 5.3 Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).
Figure 5.4 Witches flying to the Sabbat.
Figure 5.5 Witches using a magical ointment to transform into animals before floating away.
Figure 5.6 Datura (Datura stramonium).
Figure 6.1 A sixteenth-century broadsheet showing the fiery death of accused witches.
Figure 6.2 A nightmarish image of witches in the company of demons worshipping the Devil during the Sabbat.
Figure 6.3 Drawing of an Upper Paleolithic image that appears at Les Trois Frères, France.
Figure 6.4 Witches offering children to the Devil.
Figure 7.1 Bone pointing magic among the Australian Aborigines.
Figure 7.2 A Nepalese astrologer foretelling the future.
Figure 7.3 The Azande poison oracle.
Figure 7.4 “The Oracle of Delphi Entranced.”
Figure 7.5 The ordeal of boiling water.
Figure 7.6 The ordeal by water.
Figure 8.1 Entity encounters.
Figure 8.2 The Amityville Horror house.
Figure 8.3 The Face on Mars.
Figure 8.4 Brigadier General Ramey and Colonel Thomas Dubose examine the debris of the Roswell UFO.
Figure 8.5 Klaatu and Gort depart in their flying saucer.
Figure 8.6 The Prophet Raël standing in front of a model of the Elohim spacecraft he encountered.
Figure 8.7 Marshall Herf Applewhite, prophet of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult.
Figure 8.8 Comet Hale-Bopp.
Figure 9.1 Aztec priests sacrificing a human.
Figure 9.2 Stonehenge.
Figure 9.3 The Temple of Kukulcan, Chichen Itza.
Figure 9.4 The Pyramids of Giza.
Figure 10.1 A sacred cow in the middle of a busy street. ← X | XI →
Figure 10.2 Aztec human sacrifice.
Figure 10.3 Cannibalism in Mesoamerica.
Figure 10.4 An Aborigine initiation rite in Central Australia.
Figure 10.5 The megalithic statues of Easter Island.
Figure 10.6 Toppled statues.
Figure 11.1 Pilgrims gathered around the Ka’ba (Mecca, Saudi Arabia).
Figure 11.2 Human sacrifice and capital punishment.
Figure 12.1 “The creation of Adam” by Michelangelo (c. 1511).
Figure 12.2 Lévi-Srauss’ structural explanation for the role of the coyote as “the trickster.”
Figure 13.1 The Shroud of Turin.
Figure 13.2 The giant Buddha of Bamiyan.
Figure 13.3 A bitan in ASC listening to the sounds of a flute, a form of communication with the spirit world.
Figure 13.4 A Nepalese ascetic smoking marijuana.
Figure 13.5 Symbolic healing.
Figure 14.1 Wovoka, the Paiute prophet.
Figure 14.2 The Ghost Dance among the Arapaho.
Figure 14.3 The slain body of Chief Big Foot of the Lakota Sioux.
Figure 14.4 Burial of the victims of the Wounded Knee massacre.
Figure 15.1 An innocent woman being executed by Taliban henchmen.
Figure 15.2 An obdurate Taliban enforcer beating a defenseless woman.
Figure 15.3 A young Talib carrying the severed hands of alleged thieves.
Figure 16.1 The Twin Towers in flames.
Figure 16.2 Shoko Asahara in police custody.
Figure 16.3 The Reverend Jim Jones, founder of Peoples Temple, delivering a sermon.
Figure 16.4 Jim Jones as the loving father of his followers.
Figure 16.5 Reverend Jim Jones’s bloated body lies on the walkway to the main pavilion in Jonestown.
Figure 16.6 A police mug shot of David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians.
Figure 16.7 Fire engulfing the Branch Davidian building complex.
Figure 16.8 Aftermath of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

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Numerous people have read the book manuscript and I am grateful to them for their input and comments. I would like to especially express my gratitude to Dr. Raymond Scupin for his many insights and suggestions. A special thanks must also go out to my colleagues in the Department of Anthropology at Miami University for their support and encouragement. I am fortunate to be in a department where people get along and where there is ongoing intellectual exchange among all. I have spent long hours discussing the issues raised in this book with various colleagues. I would specifically like to thank Dr. Jeb Card for the extensive discussions of many of the topics covered in this book and for his expert input toward the chapters on witchcraft and the paranormal. I am indebted to Dr. James Bielo for his general comments and for his insights in reference to the chapter on fundamentalism. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Perry Gnivecki for his unrelenting support and for making important contributions through the discussion of many of the archaeological issues that inform this book. Finally, I wish to thank Dr. Lawrence Downes for his encouragement and technical advice regarding the images reproduced in this book. I alone assume responsibility for any errors or problems and for the views expressed in this book.


XIV, 279
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Fundamentalism Shamanism Witchcraft Myth Paranormal
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 279 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

H. Sidky (Author)

H. Sidky is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. His research interests include the anthropology of religion, ecological anthropology, anthropological theory/history of anthropological thought, and scientific methods in anthropology. He has conducted ethnographic field research in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, Nepal, Easter Island, central Australia, and among the Tibetan exile community in northern India. Dr. Sidky is the author of numerous books, including Haunted by the Archaic Shaman: Himalayan Jhakris and the Discourse on Shamanism (2008), Perspectives on Culture: A Critical Introduction to Theory in Cultural Anthropology (2004), Halfway to the Mountain: The Jirels of Eastern Nepal (2004), A Critique of Postmodern Anthropology: In Defense of Disciplinary Origins and Traditions (2003), The Greek Kingdom of Bactria: From Alexander to Eucratides the Great (2000), and Witchcraft, Lycanthropy, Drugs and Disease: An Anthropological Study of the European Witch-Persecutions (Lang, 1997).


Title: Religion