Jan 30, 2020
Is there anything in common between how indigenous people experience of esoteric, spiritual phenomena and the contemporary New Agers who presume to be their heirs?
If anyone is qualified to begin to answer this question it's Michael F. Brown, a cultural anthropologist who's done a deep dive into both of these worlds.
Back in the mid-1970s, Brown spent a year living with the Awajún also known as the Aguaruna), an indigenous people of the Peruvian jungle, whose ancestors had a reputation as fearsome headhunters and whose cosmology includes beliefs in shamanism and sorcery.
Peru's Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s forced Brown to refocus his work elsewhere, to the study of the New Age phenomena of channeling, which was peaking around this time. Just as he immersed himself among the Awajún, Brown spent a season with the channels, their clients and audience. He documented what he discovered in his aptly titled book, The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age.
In this wide-ranging conversation, Brown discusses his fieldwork in both of these milieu; sorcery and shamanism among the Awajún, cultural appropriation; and the work of the School for Advanced Research (SAR). where he's been president since 2014.
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