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Shamans and Leaders: Parousial Movements Among the Inuit of Northeast Canada

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The existence of Parousial movements in Northeast Canada has remained largely unnoticed in the literature on messianic movements. Yet many Parousial movements flourished among the Inuit of Northeast Canada in the first half of this century. Recently, Inuit elders have shown themselves willing to discuss these movements with the authors. Their information sheds important light on the nature of these movements. On the basis of the existing literature, archival sources and oral information of the elders a new appraisal of these movements can be made. Eleven Parousial movements, some very poorly documented are discussed by the authors. They argue that the Parousial movements can be considered as attempts to integrate Christianity in existing Inuit beliefs and practices, notably shamanism. These movements developed in areas outside direct missionary control, and their development informs us about patterns of leadership and competition in Inuit society. Most of these movements were short-lived and ended by Inuit themselves. The negative assessment of these movements by missionaries and secular authorities often resulted in a distorted picture of these movements that can be corrected with the help of the information of Inuit elders. The Parousial movements constituted an important chapter in the history of Inuit religion and played an important part in the acceptance of Christianity as the combination of Christianity and shamanism turned out to be unsuccessful.

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