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Aboriginal Religions in Australia  

David Moore

Aboriginal Religions are the Indigenous religions of Australia. There are a diverse range of religions throughout Australia, with religion defined as the “transmission of authoritative traditions.” Despite change and disruption in the past two and a half centuries of European occupation and colonization, Aboriginal Religions retain their distinctiveness and vitality. This article explores some of the common aspects of the Aboriginal Religions of Australia. These are the importance of the land and the sacred places of that land. Aboriginal Religions can best be researched by phenomenological approaches which are based upon language.


Indigenous Knowledges  

Paul L. Gareau and Molly Swain

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge that represents the complex ways of understanding the world. It is defined as a systemic and reasoned discernment that generates a “justified belief” or “truth” distinct from “subjective opinion” and is based on ontological understandings of one’s existence or the “nature of being.” Epistemology and ontology for Indigenous nations/peoples is recognized as a holistic and plural concept of onto-epistemologies whereby understanding and being are shaped by experiential knowledges in traditional, storied places where distinct collectivities of humans and other-than-human nations/peoples intersect, interact, and coexist. Indigenous onto-epistemologies or knowledges are often referred to as lifeways to better describe the relational ethos of Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing. However, these relational knowledges are systematically overlooked and/or denigrated in settler societies, which position Indigenous knowledges as cultural opinions rather than reasoned truth. This discrepancy reflects a long history of settler colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism rooted in Western European values of moral exclusivity, possessiveness, logocentrism, anthropocentrism, and androcentrism. These values and worldview continue to be deployed onto Indigenous nations/peoples and communities/collectivities through colonialism and racialization in ways that impede kinship relations and storied knowledges. Indigenous knowledges can be understood as the multivariate experiences of thinking, being, and relating between sovereign Indigenous nations/peoples and communities/collectivities. Based in critical Indigenous theory—itself largely shaped by the experiences of Indigenous scholars and Indigenous nations/peoples living with and resisting colonial nation-states in the Global North and Oceania—this discussion is about framing the definitions of epistemology and ontology in ways that are meaningful and resonant to Indigenous nations/peoples’ relational ethos and worldviews. This can be accomplished by situating and unpacking the dominant definitions of epistemology through modern Enlightenment values, settler colonialism, and White possessiveness, followed by outlining an interpretative framework called a hermeneutics of relationality. This hermeneutical framework is a generalizable and critical approach to encapsulating an understanding of Indigenous knowledges as relational, situated, collective, and co-constitutive.


Indigenous Religions in Brazil  

Mark Münzel

In the past, Indigenous religions often served as a black box for various scholarly disciplines. For example, they have been seen as an example of psychopathic complexes or for the original primacy of the collective over the individual. With the emergence of the New Age movement, shamanism in particular has become an object of unscientific projection. In the process, on the one hand Indigenous religions were hold in higher esteem, but on the other hand the character of their reflections on time and the nature of the world and, more often than not, very abstract concepts are reduced to happiness. Approaching the issue from the perspective of mythical indigenous narratives has the advantage that Indigenous people, the tellers of these myths, speak for themselves. Of course, when they come into contact with Western scholars (who record their myths) or missionaries (who are also interested in indigenous systems of beliefs), they too naturally absorb outside influences: A clinically pure Indigenous religion, so to speak, is an illusion. Fortunately, myths, whether recorded by Indigenous scholars, or told to researchers who come from outside, are usually not dry factual reports, but literary works, today often aimed at Indigenous children and adolescents, but often enough also as literature for adults—Indigenous religions appear to us in literary guise. Brazil’s Indigenous nations represent a large number of very different cultures and traditions. Since no central authority existed prior to European colonization, and since the state institutions in Brazil that have since been established are not responsible for Indigenous systems of beliefs, these various Indigenous religions have never been unified, even if they have been subject since the early days of colonialism to uniform external influences (above all the Christian mission and the Western school system). To put it bluntly, one could say that the only thing they have in common is that they are different from one another. Still, some broad similarities can be found, and common traits that apply to a larger number, though never all, Indigenous systems of belief, myths, and rituals can be identified. One of these widespread similarities is the idea that humans are an unreal illusion reflecting another world and another time. Another trait is a belief in culture heroes who long ago laid the groundwork for the situation in the 21st century and then left the people to their own devices. The world they built will not last forever, but will one day collapse in on itself in a catastrophe, just as other worlds have collapsed before ours. Ultimately, all relations are unstable, enduring merely for more or less long or short periods of time. The only thing permanent is the change.


Materiality and the Study of Indigenous Religions  

Amy R. Whitehead

Academic attention to Indigenous religions has grown steadily since the 1990s in parallel with increasing attention to the lived, material dimensions of religions. The global emergence of the subfield of material religion in the late 1990s began to highlight the often taken-for-granted and marginalized material aspects of religions by placing religious “things” front and center within cutting-edge debates. Paying scholarly attention to geographical sites, temples, ritual tools, texts, clothing, language, the body, and the things that people use to live their religions with and through began to unmask a scholarly heritage that privileges mind over matter, subjects over objects, culture over nature, the sacred over the profane, and metaphysics over the tangible. Simultaneously, the 1990s saw the re-emergence of Indigenous religions as an area of interest for the study of religions. These two trajectories, while at first seemingly unrelated, are both responding to a transformative and decolonizing shift in the study of religions, where researcher positionality, institutional structures, power relations, and processes are being critically and practically reassessed. Features of this shift include a series of moves in scholarship that problematize the discipline’s modern, Enlightenment, colonial legacy; emphasis on metaphysics, texts, and beliefs in the academic study of religions; and the world religions paradigm. Combining the fields of lived and material religion with the study of Indigenous religions, beginning with their related historical trajectories, offers rich and complex possibilities for the future innovative development of theories and methods. These theories and methods extend beyond established, anthropomorphic positions about material cultures, offering relational theories (such as the new animism and the new materialism) that allow Indigenous religious materialities to reveal new understandings about the ontological and other potentialities of so-called “things.”


The Revival of Animism in the 21st Century  

Kocku von Stuckrad

The academic concept of “animism” has a long and complicated history. Born from a colonial setting around 1900, it was used to identify premodern or “primitive” understandings of certain nonhuman entities or objects as being alive, ensouled, and agentic. Because of its European depiction as a “failed ontology,” and the heavy colonial baggage this depiction entails, the concept was criticized and went almost out of use in mainstream anthropology and the academic study of religion. Around the turn of the 21st century, however, a different interpretation of animism was (re)introduced, which focused on animism as a relational approach to the world rather than as ontological claims about nonhuman entities. Many scholars in the emerging field of “new animism” base their considerations on spiritual practices in Europe and North America that use the concept of animism in a positive way. This is true for many forms of paganism, nature-based spiritualities, and environmental activism. In a parallel, and in fact intertwined, movement, academic theories have been developed across disciplines and intellectual traditions that conceptualize relationality, nonhuman agency, and entanglements of life forms in a way that strives to overcome influential binaries such as subject–object, nature–culture, mind–matter, or human–nonhuman. These theories, in turn, materialize in literature and art, and they influence political and spiritual practice in many ways. In what can be called animism’s double-bind, new animism is a mode of critique of exactly those binary constructions that originate in European hegemonic thinking. While the idea of animism, due to its colonial legacy, should no longer be applied as a generic concept to a particular “type” of religion, its revival in Euro-American discourse at the turn of the 21st century can, ironically, be interpreted as a subversive attempt to decolonize the hegemonic tradition that constructed European (white, male) humans as detached from the rest of planetary life and as the pinnacle of evolution and creation.


The Study of Indigenous Religions  

Gregory D. Alles

The most important question to start with in considering the study of Indigenous religions is: What do the terms study, indigenous, religion, and Indigenous religions mean? There is no universally agreed upon definition for any of these terms or their combination, but one common understanding sees the study of Indigenous religions as the examination, in an academic context, of the religions of Indigenous people, prototypically, but not exclusively, people displaced by European settler colonialism. In Western European and North American universities this study has been dominated by scholars whose nations engaged in colonialism, and it has produced any number of theories attempting to understand and explain the religious practices and ideas of people who have generally been deemed “other.” As in other disciplines and fields, the Western European and North American tradition of study has exerted a powerful influence on scholars elsewhere, such as South Asia. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, Indigenous people began to develop their own methods of study, known as Indigenous research methodologies. Among other things, these methodologies emphasize the active involvement of Indigenous people as research participants rather than just objects of study, engage in research that addresses the concerns of Indigenous people, and insist that the benefits of research should be shared with the people being studied. They also often employ various methods and theories rooted in their own traditions. In practice, the mutual relations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and the people whom they study vary widely, as do the topics that scholars choose to study.


Indigenous Religion of Hawaiʻi  

Marie Alohalani Brown

Hawaiian religion is a nature religion in that the island environment is the matrix of traditional Hawaiian beliefs and belief-related practices. For this reason, nature as a whole is considered sacred. Creation chants in the form of genealogies establish the Hawaiian people as the younger relatives of these other-than-human entities termed “akua” that comprise and populate this island world. There are countless akua, thus making it impossible to know all their names and functions. To address this issue, a prayer acknowledges and honors these innumerable akua and the existence and vastness of the potentially significantly unknown. Hawaiian religion is practice driven. While a great number of deities are recognized and honored, not all of them are actively worshipped. Practitioners focus their attention on the akua who are in one way or another relevant to their occupation or craft. In addition to the belief in nature deities, Hawaiian religion is informed by other foundational concepts such as kino lau (the forms a deity may assume or the forms with which a deity is symbolically associated), ʻaumākua (ancestral deities), mana (a complex concept broadly related to “power”), and kapu (prohibition) related to the sacred. These concepts are inextricably intertwined in Hawaiian religion. In an earlier time in Hawaiʻi’s history, this religion regulated nearly every aspect of life—familial, societal, political, and economic. Thus, Hawaiian religion and Hawaiian culture are nearly indistinguishable.


Indigenous Religions in West Africa  

Katharina Wilkens and Mariam Goshadze

Reaching from the Sahara Desert and the savanna in the north to the densely wooded areas of the Atlantic coast, West Africa is a region marked by a history of long-distance trade, large empires, European colonialism, and postcolonial nationalism. Indigenous religions here consist of a number of functionally differentiated institutions, societies, and ritual performances that vary considerably across the region. These may include lineage rituals of ancestor veneration, professional praise singers and narrators, mask societies, burial rituals, healing, puberty rites and marriage, societies dedicated to various divinities, witchcraft, annual festivals, and divination. With concepts like “fetishism” and “animism,” Western scholarship on African religions has left a deep epistemological imprint on how it has been understood. The current usage of both terms “indigenous” and “traditional” in reference to African religions reflects the variety of approaches toward decolonizing Western theories of religion and culture that emphasize different aspects of empirical research, discursive identity, and the relationship to Christianity (and to a lesser extent to Islam). Precolonial sources on the subject are rare, but some do exist, including Islamic textual sources, oral (mostly epic) literature, and archaeological data. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the changing perceptions of Indigenous religions in the face of Christian missionization and European colonialism are marked by a shift from the importance of ancestral rituals in public offices to nationalistic idealization of traditions as a means of ethnic integration. During the course of the 20th century, the neglect of, or even antagonism toward Indigenous religious expressions has led to a culturalization of ritual performances and narratives, on the one hand, and to the reactive formation of neotraditional religious groups, on the other hand. Confronted with attacks launched by Pentecostalism and Salafism, traditional religions remain relevant as actors, and observers point out their contribution to modern, decolonial societies entangled in diasporic and world history.


Have Mercy on Us: Inca Heritage, Christianity, and Salvation in Colonial Cuzco  

Sebastian Ferrero

The coming of the gospel to America with the Spaniard conquistadors meant the launch of the most important salvation of souls campaign ever seen. The knowledge of the written Law and the administration of the sacraments, such as the sacrament of baptism, allowed the “Indians” to be redeemed from original sin and access, at least, Purgatory. While the colonial church promised salvation to the Andeans, it faced the problem of “deciding” the eschatological destiny awaiting the ancestors of the “Indians” (new Christians), especially the Inca rulers. After an inevitable condemnation of the Incas by the early colonial catechisms, new discursive channels appeared suggesting a possible redemption of the Incas, with arguments that evoked the principle of natural law and the acquisition of natural enlightenment. The redemption and salvation of the monarchs of Tawantinsuyu would reach various discursive spaces. It is found subtly in the field of visual representations, especially in a group of canvases produced during the period commonly called the Inca Renaissance, and in performative acts where the evocation of the Inca past acquires an important eschatological dimension.


Native American Religions  

Sarah E. Dees

Native American religious traditions encompass a diverse array of beliefs, practices, and features of material culture and society that reflect and shape individual experiences and communal life among Indigenous communities in what is today the United States. While Native American religious traditions have long been the subject of scholarly inquiry, a field of study dedicated specifically to this topic only emerged in the mid-20th century. Because historical sources describing Native religions often wove ethnocentric biases or anti-Indian sentiments into descriptions of Native beliefs and practices, present-day inquiry requires critically reflexive interpretation of primary sources and attention to insiders’ perspectives. Today, scholarship on Native American religions draws on numerous methodological approaches to explore key features of these traditions, including ceremonies, stories, philosophies, art, and social institutions. While these features vary greatly by religious community, practitioners of Native religions often emphasize the significance of land and the environment, their cultural heritage, and relationships between humans and non-human entities, spirits, and ancestors. Many practitioners of Native American religions would resist the notion that a “religious” or “spiritual” realm can be separated from “secular” aspects of society or culture; thus, in addition to focusing on constitutive features of the religious beliefs and practices themselves, an understanding of Native American religions requires attention to broader social and cultural issues, including politics, law, health, and education. Furthermore, just as Native traditions were dynamic prior to the 15th century, they have been shaped by contact with non-Native religions and cultures since the first instances of European colonization. The historical conditions of European and Euro-American settler colonialism and encounter between Native and non-Native communities necessitate attention to issues such as Christian missionization and the ensuing Indigenous responses to Christianity, U.S. federal Indian policy, legal battles over Native American religious freedom and self-determination, and the place of Native religions in mainstream U.S. culture. While these themes and issues illuminate some shared features of Native American religions, the unique histories and characteristics of specific communities necessarily subvert efforts to articulate a simple, comprehensive definition of “Native American religion.” And, while knowledge of the past is essential for understanding Native American religions, a historical focus in itself is insufficient if it ignores the ongoing presence of Native American religious expression. Practitioners of Native American religions today emphasize religious continuity as well as creativity and change, blending long-standing historical traditions with more recently established religious innovations.