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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422

Abstract

NORTHOVER, Richard A.. Durkheim's totemic principle, shamanism and Southern African San religions. Herv. teol. stud. [online]. 2021, vol.77, n.2, pp.1-8. ISSN 2072-8050.  http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i2.6709.

The study reappraised Emile Durkheim's totemic principle in relation to the origins of religion and culture, using, amongst others, speech act theory and recent southern African epistemologies, especially David Lewis-Williams' theory of shamanism, potency and altered states of consciousness. The study was text-based, qualitative and interpretive, and used key texts from anthropology, archaeology, history of religion, sociology and philosophy. It outlined Durkheim's theory of the totemic principle and critiqued it, using performativity, cognitive neuroscience and southern African ethnography. Durkheim's sociological reduction of God and religion to society and his dismissal of individual psychological experience were criticised. Lewis-Williams' shamanism, both as a general theory and with particular reference to the San, was explored as an alternative to Durkheim's totemism, animals playing a central but different function in each system. Although his understanding of performativity and sociopolitical relations in religion was inchoate, Durkheim helped demystify religion and establish social constructionism. He overestimated collective affect and sentiments and underestimated the role played by individual altered states of consciousness in the origin of religion.CONTRIBUTION: The study critically evaluates Durkheim's reduction of religion to society using current concepts of performativity, Matthias Guenther's New Animism and David Lewis-Williams' revised shamanism, particularly its ideas of trance dance, potency and altered states of consciousness, and posits shamanism rather than totemism as the probable origin of religion

Keywords : Emile Durkheim; totemism; mana; David Lewis-Williams; San; shamanism; potency; animism; altered states of consciousness.

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