- Series: Hermeneutics: Studies in the History of Religions (Book 5)
- Paperback: 335 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Revised ed. edition (April 29, 1981)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520042395
- ISBN-13: 978-0520042391
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #579,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Religions of the American Indians (Hermeneutics: Studies in the History of Religions) Revised ed. Edition
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From the Back Cover
'Hultkrantz treads where other angels fear to with this audacious and clear overall survey. He leaves the room for specialists to debate and generalists to quicken curiosity.'--Christian Century
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The book is divided into two parts. Part one covers the religions of the tribal cultures. Hulkrantz also does a great job in explaining all of the anthropological terms used in the descriptions. Also very interesting is the analysis of broad themes found throughout North and South America that links the beliefs of all the tribes from their origins.
Part Two covers what Hultkrantz calls "Nuclear America" or the region extending from Mexico to Peru including the religions of the high cultures or advanced civilizations of the Inca, Maya, and Aztec.
Readers of this book will finish with a very broad understanding of American Indian history, culture, and religion. A re-reading will give an in-depth knowledge of these cultures.
Part I of the book deals with primitive Indian religions that relied on, and continue to rely on, verbal histories to record their religious, rites, myths and ceremonies. While many of the rituals and myths still remain in the verbal form, many have now been transcribed into written form and have been carefully collated. Like those of the more advanced tribes, these religions too link beliefs and rituals to social organization, social structure, to the environment, and to the social morphology of their respective societies, that is to an ideological system and conception of society that is basically holistic in its approach. In this way, and unlike normal non-Indian religions, this view of religion is not necessarily "God-centered," nor is it to be thought of as being divorced from society or from the larger ecological environment. In short, there is no "pie-in-the-sky," in most Indian religions, as the heavens and the earth are viewed as one continuous "this worldly" whole. Neither or these religions about personal rewards and punishments as much as they are about an interchange between their respective groups and the gifts the earth provides for their sustenance.
Part II treats the "so-called" high religions of the more advanced tribes. And here the author is referring mostly to the Mayans, the Incas and the Aztecs. Unlike the more primitive Indian religions, these religions relied on the written from, and like their non-Indians counterparts are scripturally-based. Unfortunately, the author's research deviates from that used in the study of the more primitive religions, as here he begins to draw on archeology and ethnology.
This deviation in methodology raises questions about the comparability of the two parts of the analysis, since it is clear from the overall analysis that both groups drew from each other. That is to say, the distinction drawn between them was not only arbitrary but arbitrary in a way that arguably could have done violence to the analyses themselves. Despite this, the book provides answers to many long standing questions: For instance, how religions sprang up at about the same time in history in vastly different areas? How interchanges across vast distances may have occurred? And, about the main benefits of religion in the context of both the more primitive and the more advanced Indian civilizations?
Altogether, this is an academic book, and not for the causal reader, primarily interested in understanding Indian religions, as was the case with my interests.