30 May 2017

Taking the supernatural seriously (academically speaking)


Should anthropologists take shamans, spirits and other supernatural phenomena seriously? For some, the idea is absurd, but, as University of Copenhagen anthropologist Morten Axel Pedersen explains, it might not be as far out as it sounds

As an anthropologist, Morten Axel Pedersen often runs into situations that, at first glance, appear paradoxical.

“What do you do when you’re doing field work in Mongolia, and you meet a shaman who also happens to be the head of a company that has been given a World Bank loan? Or what about when you find yourself at the University of Moscow talking to a someone getting their PhD in quantum physics, and they ask if you’d like to talk about what to do when you find yourself in the mountains, surrounded by spirits?”

Pedersen is now a professor at the University of Copenhagen. His days of field work in the Mongolian taiga and speaking with Russian academics are long past, but the idea that something can be considered by one person to be paradoxical or illogical can be completely realistic for others has stuck with him.

During his studies at Aarhus University in the 1990s, much of the focus on myth and legend that had always been at the core of anthropology had been replaced by trendier, post-modern literature that dealt with things like ‘narrative’, ‘identity’ and ‘discourse’.

Rather than get caught up in all that, Pedersen transferred to Cambridge, where anthropologists had begun taking an interest in just the type of paradox he had experienced during his field work.'

Read the enitre article by Uniavisen right here