Shamanism and its Discontents

Shamanism and its Discontents

Cleo Kearns

April 24, Saturday, 12-3 PM EST. Online. (See time zone converter if you’re in a different location to make sure you get the time right.)

They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.  Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. —Shakespeare, All’s Well that Ends Well

Shamanism is at once a family of tribal cultural practices and increasingly a more cosmopolitan discourse, one that is widely distributed across many cities and continents. Once defined largely as a property of the indigenous, the marginal and the primitive, it is more and more recognized as a global phenomenon, a highly effective therapeutic modality and perhaps even a resource for new philosophical and political thought. Nonetheless, its practice is fraught with problems, and it has long been challenged on scientific, ethical, political and religious grounds alike. For shamanism is never really quite at home in our conventional paradigms. Its cosmologies are wild, its metaphysics dubious, its ethics murky, its politics up for grabs, its procedures weird beyond words, and the whole thing is for the most part an affront to theists and atheists alike. Nonetheless, shamanic practices and perspectives are very much with us. We will be asking why this is, and what the implications of the renewed interest in shamanism are for our individual and collective lives at this time.

Background Reading:

  • Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
  • Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred
  • Michael Harner, Care and Cosmos
  • Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Relative Native: Essays on Indigenous Cultural Worlds
  • Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Deborah Danowski, The Ends of the World

We will be asking such questions as these:

  • How is shamanism currently defined in anthropology? Is there such a thing as neo-shamanism?  How defined?
  • Is shamanism universal? Does it have an archaic origin?
  • What is shamanism’s “first word”? What is its shadow side? (manipulation, animal sacrifice, esoteric pretension, extraction and exploitation)
  • What about shamanism and cultural appropriation? racism? neofascism???
  • How does shamanism connect with the established spiritual paths, for instance of Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?
  • How does shamanism relate to current practices in psychology, especially the treatment of trauma and dissociation?
  • How does shamanism appear in world literature and what may be learned about it in that domain?
  • How does shamanism relate to concepts of the anthropocene, of collapse and biocide?
Facilitator: Cleo Kearns

Facilitator: Cleo Kearns works in the fields of continental philosophy, anthropology and religion.  She is the author of two books T. S. Eliot and Indic Traditions (Cambridge UP, 2008) and The Virgin Mary, Monotheism and Sacrifice (Cambridge UP, 2018).  Her current research is on theory of religious sacrifice from Durkheim to Lacan and on contemporary global shamanism.  She teaches classes on shamanism, comparative religion, literature and philosophy both online and onsite and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College.

Time: Saturday, April 24, Saturday, 12-3 PM EST. Online via Zoom.

Seminar Cost:

  • $30 – Member Ticket for Incite Seminars Patreon Supports at any level
  • $45 – Non-Member (True Cost) Ticket
  • $90 – Generous Supporter Ticket
  • $15 – Student/Contingent Scholar/Activist Ticket
  • Solidarity pay-what-you-can tickets are also available for those who cannot afford any of the above tiers. Please email us.


Please register by buying a ticket at our Eventbrite page. If you have any questions or concerns, please email

%d bloggers like this: