Religion in Context: Cults and Charisma / Edition 2

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Religious power assumes many strikingly different forms, which are often regarded both by believers and by students as unique, unrelated, and even mutually exclusive. Religion in context, however, adopts a holistic approach and argues that to understand the nature of spiritual power we need to appreciate how these apparently contradictory mystical manifestations are in fact part of a single complex of mutually defining and sustaining elements. Stressing the importance of rigorous social contextualization, I. M. Lewis analyzes such seemingly disparate phenomena as spirit-possession, witchcraft, cannibalism, and shamanism, which are usually attributed to separate cults and even cultures, revealing the interconnections both between them and with the world religions, such as Islam and Christianity. This expanded and revised edition includes two new chapters, taking spider symbolism in the Italian tarantist spirit cult as a point of departure for a radical critique of Mary Douglas's theory of dangerous anomalies, and showing how the exorcism of spirits in Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam serves to entrench the power of men over women. Besides presenting a critique of the treatment of religious phenomena as reified, Professor Lewis demonstrates - in an intriguing deconstruction of the classic anthropological fieldwork situation that he sees as itself a kind of shamanic initiation - the complexity of the problem of understanding other peoples' beliefs, and the way in which these beliefs often inadvertently become part of anthropological theory. He emphasizes the continuing strength in social and cultural anthropology of a comparative approach that constantly seeks to force anthropological "theory" into a dialogue with ethnographic particulars, thereby encouraging the distillation of empirically more satisfying theory.
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Editorial Reviews

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'The book, complete with punctilious notes for each chapter and a well selected bibliography, may serve as a stimulus for the thinking anthropologist as well as a valuable choice for the attentive reader.' Man
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521566346
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Edition description: 2nd ed
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Anthropological fieldwork and the context of belief 1
2 The spirit spider and the pangolin 26
3 Possession cults in context 43
4 Witchcraft within and without 75
5 The cannibal's cauldron 88
6 The shaman's career 105
7 Expelling spirits, controlling women 122
8 The power of the past: African "survivals" in Islam 139
Notes 155
Bibliography 169
Index 190
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