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Indigenous Religion(s): Local Grounds, Global Networks (1/4)

Panel Chair: Gregory Johnson | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Globalizing discourses concerning indigenous religion(s) exist today in contexts like academia, the art world, indigenous peoples’ activism, judicial practices, tourism, and the UN. They thrive on a flexible but fairly standardized repertoire of assumed similarities in religions of indigenous peoples: harmony with nature, sacred land, healing and holism, antiquity and spirituality, shamanism and animism. Scholars like James Clifford (2013) and Ronald Niezen (2012) have referred to the increasing cultural and political importance of such formations. Yet we know little about articulations and implications on local indigenous grounds. Neither do we know well the dynamics and the reach of the networks through which these discourses travel. How are they performed, translated, and mediated? And how do they get related to claims of belonging and struggles for sovereignty? The case studies presented in this panel examine these questions from different geographical, historical, and methodological perspectives. Organizers of the panel are Greg Johnson (Colorado), Siv Ellen Kraft (Tromsø) and Bjørn Ola Tafjord (Tromsø).

Gregory D. Alles

Are Adivasis Indigenous?

During the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, many “tribal” peoples in South Asia have begun to self-identify as adivasi, literally, as “first inhabitants,” and eventually to embrace a global discourse of indigeneity, such as is found in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. While this self-identification is consistent with many formal accounts of indigeneity, which do not equate the term with autochthony, it is at odds with a common-language usage, according to which various other populations of South Asia claim indigenous status, among them the most privileged strata of the subcontinent. This essay will reflect on the usefulness and difficulties of applying notions of indigeneity in the South Asian context. In particular, it will examine what is to be gained and what is perhaps lost when we describe and analyze adivasi religious thought and practice in terms of a global discourse on indigenous religions.

Bjørn Ola Tafjord

Localized Indigenous Religions vs Globalizing Indigenist Religioning vs Globalized Primitivist Religionism

This paper argues that, for analytical purposes, it might be helpful sometimes to try to make a distinction between (1) localized indigenous religions, (2) globalizing indigenist religioning, and (3) globalized primitivist religionism. I will use examples from Talamanca, Costa Rica, to demonstrate what I mean by each of these categories, but also to show how hard it can be to make such distinctions in practice when confronting the complex, disputed, dynamic, embedded, fragmented, intersecting, multifaceted, real, reflexive matters and actors on the ground. Although the proposed exercise in classification necessarily simplifies and twists things quite brutally, its application on Talamancan materials and contexts still suggests that it might contribute to shed critical light on things that too often have been confused in the study of religions.

Arkotong Longkumer

Towards a Genealogy of the Local: A Spatial Discourse of Indigenous Religions

This paper will examine the importance of spatial politics and its relation to indigenous religions in the Northeastern parts of India. Using the notion of territoriality (Sacks 1986), as it relates to the organisation of space, I will argue that spatial politics are intimately related to the discourse of indigeneity and religion. Underscoring the relationship that exists between belonging and place, I will draw examples from indigenous religions in the region and demonstrate how identity is not only shaped by people’s relationship to their ‘natural landscapes’ but also by the tempestuous and ‘imagined’ geopolitics that increasingly influences people’s allegiances and practices.

Graham Harvey

Indigeneity on Display

In international cultural festivals, national metropolitan museums and locally organised dance events, indigeneity is on display. But what is displayed? A range of tropes are variously promoted or contested in such venues, e.g. those of identity and belonging, tradition and entertainment, spirituality and relationality. In this presentation I consider the tensions between the essentialisation of indigeneity as a singular phenomenon bearing the burden of ancient authentic spiritual belonging and the strategic deployment of indigeneity as contemporary creation of fluidity, vitality and sovereignty. Principle examples will be the Sami organised annual Riddu Riddu festival, the British Museum’s marketing use of an “indigenous” pastiche, and the Conne River “traditional powwow”. I will argue that a similar tension (between essentialisation and strategic deployment) is evident in the increasing interest in “indigenous religions” within the academy.


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Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)