Teaching Spirits: Understanding Native American Religious Traditions / Edition 1

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Overview

Teaching Spirits offers a thematic approach to Native American religious traditions. Through years of living with and learning about Native traditions across the continent, Joseph Epes Brown learned firsthand of the great diversity of the North American Indian cultures. Yet within this great multiplicity, he also noticed certain common themes that resonate within many Native traditions. These themes include a shared sense of time as cyclical rather than linear, a belief that landscapes are inhabited by spirits, a rich oral tradition, visual arts that emphasize the process of creation, a reciprocal relationship with the natural world, and the rituals that tie these themes together. Brown illustrates each of these themes with in-depth explorations of specific native cultures including Lakota, Navajo, Apache, Koyukon, and Ojibwe.
Brown was one of the first scholars to recognize that Native religions-rather than being relics of the past-are vital traditions that tribal members shape and adapt to meet both timeless and contemporary needs. Teaching Spirits reflects this view, using examples from the present as well as the past. For instance, when writing about Plains rituals, he describes not only building an impromptu sweat lodge in a Denver hotel room with Black Elk in the 1940s, but also the struggles of present-day Crow tribal members to balance Sun Dances and vision quests with nine-to-five jobs.
In this groundbreaking work, Brown suggests that Native American traditions demonstrate how all components of a culture can be interconnected-how the presence of the sacred can permeate all lifeways to such a degree that what we call religion is integrated into all of life's activities. Throughout the book, Brown draws on his extensive personal experience with Black Elk, who came to symbolize for many the richness of the imperiled native cultures. This volume brings to life the themes that resonate at the heart of Native American religious traditions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderful, clear synthesis-perhaps the best we have-of American Indian spiritual traditions, so precious and so illuminating, because they are not separate from land and life."—Peter Matthiessen, author of Tigers in the Snow

In this medicine bag of empathetic and insightful essay-lectures, the legacy of a preeminent scholar of American Indian religious traditions is opened for new generations of teachers and students. The late Joseph Brown was a legendary mentor, whose gentility and grace in person and on the page lent dignity and depth to the indigenous ways of knowledge and ceremony he passed on to others. Here we have Brown's thoughts on themes that preoccupied his scholarly and lecturing life: Indian concepts of time and space, language and song, animals and hunting and nature, and varieties of ritual practice. But Brown is always probing beneath these topics to a deeper, almost wordless realm, where he provokes us to ask how these American Indian ways of knowledge might, in turn, teach us to become more fully human. A long-awaited, marvelous inheritance. —Peter Nabokov, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195138757
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

The late Joseph Epes Brown was a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Montana. A renowned author in the fields of Native American Traditions and World Religions, Brown was one of the founders of Native American Studies and was largely responsible for bringing the study of Native American religious traditions into American higher education. His publications include The Sacred Pipe (1953), Animals of the Soul (1992), and The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian (1982). Emily Cousins, a writer and editor, received a degree in Religious Studies and Art History from Harvard University. She coedited the new edition of Brown's Animals of the Soul and the forthcoming Honor Song, an anthology compiled in honor of Brown's work.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Introduction
1 Back to Back 3
2 Changeless at the Heart of Change: Concepts of Time and Process 9
3 Fixing a Center: Native American Sacred Geography 23
4 Silence, the Word, and the Sacred: Evoking the Sacred through Language and Song 41
5 "There Is No Word for Art": The Creative Process 61
6 Relationship and Reciprocity: A Metaphysics of Nature 83
7 A Unity of Experience: Purification, Expansion, and Identity through Ritual 107
Notes 127
Index 133
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