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Unique Spirituality and Unusual Health

Dr. Campbell mentioned a general commonality of Native American Cultures was that the societies tend to fully incorporate unique people by giving them specialized roles usually linking human abnormalities to a closer spiritual connection as a opposed to Western society’s tendency toward shutting out people who are different in some way as having something wrong with them that must be fixed in order to allow the person to have a chance at functioning in society (Campbell January 24 2008). This relates to a lecture Dr. Adam Frank gave in my Core III class where we were looking at Shamanism specifically the Korean Shamanism is of special interest in tying into this idea. In Korea, an obvious tell-tell sign that a person is meant to be a Shaman is that the person is very prone to illness as though her constitution has been weakened due to the strong spiritual connection she has. This was detailed in a book by Laurel Kendall on Korean shamanistic rituals (Kendall 1990). Adam mentioned that in similar cultures this is often the case. This has me wondering if there is something here ie. a need that is being met, even it is purely a social need as Durkheim would write about, that is and has been ignored in Western Society (Dunman 2003). Has the “take this pill” montra of this society become a chemical solution to a social problem?

I discussed this idea with Adam at one point last fall and he agreed. Following with the anthropological concept of cultural relativism, humans are in general the same everywhere that the major differences are based on cultural perspectives of people brought up in different societies and therefore they have been indoctrinated with different cultural knowledge (Hofstede 1997). So it follows that in all societies there are all kinds of people and all kinds of social needs that different types of people are better suited to filling. In his discourse on the Division of Labor Emile Durkheim wrote "...Social harmony comes essentially from the division of labor. It is characterized by a cooperation which is automatically produced through the pursuit by each individual of his own interests. It suffices that each individual consecrate himself to a special function in order, by the force of events, to make himself solidary with others" (Durkheim, 1933, p.200). There are people who would fit into a special societal niche, such as that of the Korean Shamans, and these people have no place in the modern Western world.

It makes sense in the modern era that has long since replaced God with science that a person who is spiritually sensitive would naturally be out of place. However, there are subculture and counter-culture movements here in the United States as well as in other Western Nations that do reach out to these unique individuals which the modern world has forgotten. While these groups provide an alternative and usually a very open-minded environment, this does that mean that these people cannot be fully be their selves without going against the grain of their society. When a person is forced to face the choice between being “normal”* and trying to become a self-actualized person, it seems like a very unfair choice to be forced to make. More than unfair, it is unhealthy. Could self-denial be the root of the health issues that apprentice shamans have been facing?

*By “normal,” I mean to be everything there society has taught them is good, right, expected, and decent for a person of his or her social indicators.


Campbell, Brian B. “Early Woodland Lecture,” Native American Cultures. University of Central Arkansas. January 24 2008.

Frank, Adam. Gods and Ghost of East Asia. University of Central Arkansas. Fall 2006.

Kendall, Laurel. Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

Dunman, L. Joe. Emile Durkheim: Emile Durkheim Archives. “Divison of Labor.” 2003. http://durkheim.itgo.com/divisionoflabor.html

Hofstede, G. (1997). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw Hill. http://www.tamu.edu/classes/cosc/choudhury/culture.html


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