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Refutation and Desire: European Perceptions of Shamanism in the Late Eighteenth Century *

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The article discusses learned debates that evolved at the end of the eighteenth century in Europe about the interpretation of shamanism. Intellectuals, philosophers, and enlightened monarchs engaged in controversies about shamanism that were clearly linked to Enlightenment ideals of rationality and religious critique. The article addresses the ambivalence of ‘refutation and desire’ in French, German, and Russian responses to shamanism, with special attention to the French Encyclopedists, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Catherine the Great. The controversies reveal the intrinsic tension of the European project of ‘modernity’: what was discussed as ‘shamanism,’ ultimately turned out to be the result of European self-reflection.

Affiliations: 1: University of Groningen, Department of Comparative and Historical Study of Religion, Oude Boteringestraat 38, 9712 GK Groningen, The Netherlands


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