Department of Sociology
The University of Hong Kong

in conjunction with

Consulate General of France in Hong Kong
The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China

present a public lecture on

Ecstasy and the Self or the West-dreamt Shamanism:
From Socrates to New Age Postmodernism


Professor Roberte Hamayon
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE-Sorbonne), Paris


Tuesday, October 31, 2000

at 5:00 - 6:30 pm


Room 230, Knowles Building
The University of Hong Kong

Abstract: Many definitions of shamanism make use of the terms "trance" and "ecstasy" (especially since the translation of Mircea Eliade's Shamanism and archaic techniques of ecstasy into English in 1964).  Moreover, for the last three decades, shamanism has been associated with the notion of Altered States of Consciousness, mostly in works by writers other than anthropologists. I shall argue that these terms are unfit to serve as either descriptive tools or analytical concepts for an anthropological approach to shamanism.  They lack precision and are used for every imaginable mode of  behaviour.  They are inappropriate as a translation of the terms used by traditional shamanist societies. I shall also attempt to show that these terms convey ideological views and I shall call attention to their Western roots. A short historical survey indicates that "trance" was used as a tool of deprecation to condemn shamanic practices, first as "devilish" from the point of view of Christianity, then as "wild" in the Enlightenment era, and finally as "backward" and "insane" during colonization. By contrast, "trance" and "ecstasy" have been revalued today, especially in the frame of neo-shamanisms. In this context, "ecstatic neo-shamanic" practice is claimed to favour postmodern adaptation, to represent a genuine philosophy of Nature, a way of expression for the Self and a means of artistic creativity. By way of conclusion, I would like to make some suggestions about cultural borrowings. As a rule borrowings modify for they do not intend to copy the model.  Rather, in socially rigid societies, they are aimed at making changes possible. For this reason, they should be investigated mainly with respect to the borrowing society.

Click here for the CV for Professor Roberte Hamayon (rtf file)

Click here for the full-text of the lecture (rtf file)