Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Development of the Humanistic Genres in Anthropology: Participation and Practice in the Study of Spirituality and Healing

Edith Turner.

Humanistic anthropology, the anthropology of religion, and the anthropology of consciousness are currently changing from purely scientific disciplines toward discoveries in the field of spirituality. This development will inevitably draw these disciplines closer to the humanities and will also, by means of field research, strengthen the teachings of the humanities. Humanistic anthropology is interested in all that is human, at whatever level. The more humanistic disciplines have made significant advances in studies of ritual healing, initiations, music, and the social phenomenon of communitas: and, what is more, researchers have conducted these studies in the new manner, not only in participation, but as practitioners. The result is that a revolution is taking place, most pronounced in the religion and consciousness fields. Researchers are experiencing "what the natives experience" and are piecing together the natural history of spirit work, accepted as real phenomena, not to be ascribed purely to "social constructions of reality." Just as the academic humanities have within their fold practitioners of the arts, so are anthropologists practicing along with indigenous peoples. Friedson, Willis, Stoller, Tedlock, Earle, Turner, et al, are able to give the real sense of healing energy, healing power, the intervention of healing spirits, and the hitherto incompletely understood power of communitas, fellow-feeling. Their studies are opening up a new world crying out for investigation. Their findings--originally known to the ancients and forgotten in the rationalistic age--are going to change the future of thought in the humanities.


Edith Turner  (United States)
Department of Anthropology
University of Virginia

Edith Turner is a faculty member at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. She holds honorary degrees from the College of Wooster and Kenyon College. She specializes in humanism, religion, ritual, healing, and aspects of consciousness, having focused her research on the Ndembu of Zambia (healing and divination), the northern Alaskan Inupiat (healing and its relationship to shamanism), and rural Ireland (ritual, spiritual experience, and healing). She has published widely and is editor of the journal, Anthropology and Humanism.

  • Humanistic Anthropology
  • Anthropologists as Ritual Practitioners
  • Spirit

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)