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Firewalking in Japan, Sri Lanka, and the USA

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
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A cross-cultural study of the ideologies justifying firewalking illustrates the manner in which ideas are shaped by their environment. Firewalking can be interpreted as part of a rhetorical process producing a society's "folk knowledge." Japanese firewalkers, of the Buddhist Shingon sect, firewalk as an exercise in "mind control," an activity thought to yield benefits for the community as well as the individual. Sri Lankans (both Hindu and Buddhist) participate in firewalking ceremonies in fulfillment of religions vows. American entrepreneurs organized secular firewalking "seminars," using the activity as a form of psychotherapy. Skeptical scientists firewalked, seeking to debunk the notion that "mental powers" are associated with firewalking success. The study's conclusions support those of Wuthnow (1981) regarding the relationship between social ecology and the production, selection, and retention of ideologies.


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