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Animism: Respecting the Living World

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231137003
ISBN-10: 0231137001
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Editorial Reviews

Review

No recent author has emphasized it or dealt with its implications as thoroughly as Harvey.Choice

(Choice)

The strengths of this book are its fluid and engaging...writing; its openly committed stand on the central question, i.e., whether or not animals, plants, rivers, etc. are people, and its use of major ethnographic sources as evidence, together with conversations with indigenous peoples.

(Stewart Guthrie, Fordham University)

Review

The strengths of this book are its fluid and engaging...writing; its openly committed stand on the central question, i.e., whether or not animals, plants, rivers, etc. are people, and its use of major ethnographic sources as evidence, together with conversations with indigenous peoples.

(Stewart Guthrie, Fordham University)

Harvey's insightful and balanced study challenges both earlier studies of animism and more recent critics who argue that scholars should throw out the term altogether. This is a fascinating and passionate study of lifeworlds in which things are 'very much alive' and in which relation to non-human others is considered central.

(Sarah M. Pike, California State University, Chico, author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (October 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231137001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231137003
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jack D. Eller on October 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am a professional anthropologist, with a specialization in anthropology of religion and the author of a forthcoming text on anthropology of religion from Routledge. Like the previous review, I was skeptical when I saw that Harvey included discussions of wiccans, feminists, and eco-spiritualists. However, the concern was ill-founded. Harvey has actually given us a very intelligent book on the latest research into "animism" or more properly the agent-centered view of nature and supernature. Truly, early commentators like Tylor considered animism to be an inferior type of religion, one based on false notions of intelligence or will in non-human beings (of course one could criticize all religions for false notions about non-human intelligence). However, as Harvey shows, not only is animism not inferior at all, but it is actually the essence of ALL religion--that there are non-human agents in the world, and that we humans interact socially with them. The contemporary sources that Harvey cites are a valuable library on their own.

There are some shortcomings of the book. It does not include some of the best new work on agency in religion, like Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, and Paul Bloom. The discussion of Hallowell and the Ojibwe is valuable, but the chapter on Australian Aboriginals is very deficient, relying on two main sources, one worthwhile (Deborah Bird Rose) and one not worthwhile (Michael Jackson). There is much literature he could and should have referenced, as I know, having done my fieldwork among the Warlpiri of Central Australia.
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Format: Paperback
"Animism" has a rather shady history, having been often used as a pejorative label for beliefs regarded as simple or primitive. Properly, it refers to those religions based on attributing spirits, or spiritual nature, to some or all beings in the environment: animals, trees, rocks, mountains, and so on. Most traditional religions of small-scale societies do this. However, these religions differ enormously among themselves. Harvey, a religious studies professor, compares the Ojibwe (Anishinabe) with the Central Desert Australian Aborigines, giving brief (all too brief) accounts of both. These religions are as different from each other as either one is from Christianity or Islam, making "animism" a problematic category. Harvey also uses the term "shamanism" very broadly--much more broadly than I would care for; I prefer to limit the term to its original meaning, i.e. the religion of the indigenous peoples of Siberia ("shaman" is a Tungus word, from east Siberia) and such religions as are clearly very closely related thereto. Talking about "shamans" among South American Indians or San is really stretching the term. However, a case can still be made for using the term in its classic broad sense, to refer to any religion in which the officiants send their souls to the lands of the gods and dead, and this is how Harvey uses it. Still, I wonder what is served by generalizing about very disparate traditions.
Harvey gives a very good short history and discussion of the concept of animism, with full attention to its pejorative uses in the past. He makes a very good case for rehabilitating it (as have Eugene Hunn and several other anthropologists). He also discusses its use by modern individuals seeking to reconnect with a more immanent, environmental spirituality. [...
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Format: Paperback
I am impressed with this book for at least a few reasons. One, it goes to the heart of indigenous/shamanic/animist/pagan/earthy worldviews by placing the emphasis on relationships and learning how to relate well with diverse other kinds of beings. Two, it does so with language that is honoring of diversity and non-divisive, no small task considering the history of English-speaking cultures. And three, Harvey is playful. He's fun to read and gets that most animists are not uptight curmudgeons.

I teach shamanism to spiritual seekers as part of my day-job and see how this IS something that is learned (or not), just as Harvey asserts, by indigenous and non-indigenous folks alike. I also work as a professional counselor and see how most folks at least in this area of the US only see other living humans as full persons and that the major task before Western cultures (in my opinion) is to restore personhood to our other-than-human relations and to allow our ethical frameworks and conduct to follow suit from this shift in attention and worldview. You can call this a reclamation of Indigenous Mind, an animist revival, or survival. In any case, it's time.

Big thanks to Harvey for such a well-crafted text!

Daniel Foor /[...]
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book Harvey does exactly what he sets out to do: discuss animism in the modern world. He starts off by giving a brief overview of the history of the word, describing the "old" animism of Tylor and then explaining how it has changed and how the term is used in modern academia.

The second section then includes four case studies, in which he looks at the animistic tendencies among certain cultures. Included here are the Ojibwe and their language, Maori Arts, Aboriginal Law and Land, and Eco-Pagan activism. In each section, Harvey does a through job of explaining what they believe, and gives plenty of sources for the reader to pursue. He also achieves what is perhaps the main point of the section: showing that animism isn't necessarily the same for everyone.

The third section focuses on issues facing animist, and is divided into seven chapters. In these, Harvey discusses the history of the subject, as well as how it fits into an animist worldview both in modern times and in the past.

The fourth and final section is on challenges that animists face. Here Harvey has provides three big challenges, and also provides some answers to them. At the end is a bibliography of all the work which Harvey references during text, making it easy for the reader to find an article or book on a particular topic of interest.

While this is a great book and highly recommended for anyone to read, it must be noted that the book is very academic and might not be the best pick for someone more casually interested in the philosophy behind animism.
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