Accepted Paper:

Legally sacred and its distortions: shamanism as an unintended consequence  


Konstantinos Zormpas (Shandong University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper offers ethnographic documentation of shamanic practices challenging the constitutional legitimization of religion in Tuva Republic, Siberia.

Paper long abstract:

Keywords: religious legitimacy, shamanic violence and retaliation, unintended consequences of cultural revival, conflicts, anthropology of law, Siberia.

This paper considers rituals of shamanic retaliation in relation to the official regulations concerning religious revival and practice in post-Soviet Tuva, Russia. In Tuva, an Autonomous Republic bordering with Mongolia, the once repressed heritages of Buddhism, Shamanism and the Orthodox Church are now accorded the legal status of 'traditional [in effect, State] religions'; at the same time, religious customs are central to a revival of traditional culture since the early 1990s. The paper sets about to document an inconspicuous - yet socially pervasive - strand of religious revival, that is, shamanic services of occult killing and retaliation for people who perceive themselves as cursed by their enemies. Drawing on counter cursing rites at an Association of Shamans, as well as on evidence of shamans hired to murder with curses, the paper identifies a paradox which permeates the legal scaffolding of the constitutionally approved Shamanic religion in Tuva. While shamanism is accorded the status of a doctrinal religion by State law, the shamans of this study are central to governing a social field of violence which is ungovernable by State law. This discrepancy between official and popular conceptualizations, uses and abuses of shamanism raises several crucial implications regarding the reification of religious knowledge and its unintended consequences: is the divide between politics and religion in Asiatic Russia as absolute as it is reflected in the legal scripts?

Panel P091
Knowledge revealed and concealed: anthropologies of things unseen by the illiberal state