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Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters

Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience

David E. Young
Jean-Guy Goulet
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 378
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  • Book Info
    Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters
    Book Description:

    Being Changedis a book that directly challenges the rationalist bias in Western tradition by developing a new, 'experimental' approach to extraordinary experiences.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0236-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 7-14)

    This book is a collection of original papers by Western-trained anthropologists who have had experiences which fall outside of the range of what we tend to regard as “normal.” We have called such experiences “extraordinary,” but it should be kept in mind that experiences which may be extraordinary for Western-trained anthropologists may be commonplace for most traditional peoples around the world. The focus of the book is on dreams and visions which carry an unusual degree of reality – as in the case of Goulet who, while sitting quietly in a native Indian ceremony sees someone fanning the fire, only...


    • Dreams and Visions in Other Lifeworlds
      (pp. 16-38)

      Ethnographers have often found themselves immersed in societies in which people talk about their dreams and in which other people readily interpret them, societies in which “the world of ghosts and spirits is as real as that of markets, though real in different qualitative ways than can be ethnographically described” (Obeyesekere 1990:66). This paper argues that in the process of anthropological fieldwork it is possible, and even useful, for the ethnographer to experience this qualitatively different world of ghosts and spirits, and to incorporate such experiences in ethnographic accounts. The paper illustrates the manner in which this can be done...

    • Dene Ways and the Ethnographer’s Culture
      (pp. 39-70)

      A few years ago, I was told that my published Ph.D. dissertation,People of Tetlin, Why Are You Singing?(1972) was being used in the local school of Tetlin (Alaska), “to teach the kids their own culture.” I suppose this was meant as a compliment. After all, the research, conducted between 1969 and 1972, had been encouraged by the Tetlin, one of the Nabesna Indian villages located in eastern Alaska, not too far from the Canadian border. The people of Tetlin belong to the large Athapaskan linguistic family, the speakers of which, the Dene, occupy most of inland Alaska and...

    • A Visible Spirit Form in Zambia
      (pp. 71-96)

      Africans are acutely conscious of spirits. Anthropologists have long been interested in what Africans believe about spirits and the ritual events which surround spirit encounters. But it is the Africans’ reports of experiences with spirits that are regarded as appropriate anthropological material, not the experiences themselves. It is the same with religious studies. Scholars of religion tend to explain accounts of spirit encounters in terms of metaphor. The issue of whether or not spirits actually exist has not been faced.

      When an anthropologist has an unusual experience, this is even more difficult to handle because the essence of anthropology, according...


    • Psychic Energy & Transpersonal Experience: A biogenetic structural account of the Tibetan Dumo Yoga Practice
      (pp. 99-134)

      Mystical traditions from many cultures describe extraordinary experiences involving the unusual movement of energy within the body.¹ These experiences may be profound, may be the consequence of entering an alternative phase of consciousness, and may be culturally interpreted as both numinous and sacred. In this paper, I wish to operationalize the concept of psychic energy in such a way that a biopsychological account of such experiences is possible. I will begin with a phenomenological definition of “psychic energy” and then will offer a personal account of my exploration of Tibetan tantric Buddhism and the experiences that arose as a consequence...

    • Spirited Imagination: Ways of approaching the shaman’s world
      (pp. 135-165)

      The following material represents a transcript of a discussion which took place recently in Edmonton, Alberta. The general topic is the spirit world of the Native shaman and the manner in which it is approached by non-Natives, such as anthropologists. Prior to assembling, the participants were told that the discussion would center around the question: What happens when we open ourselves to the shaman’s world?

      While the discussion is moderated by an anthropologist, the participants include a diverse range of individuals: a graduate student, journalist, Jungian analyst, Native social worker, store-clerk, educator, and a ceremonial magician. Each presents his or...

    • Visitors in the Night: a creative energy model of spontaneous visions
      (pp. 166-194)

      Anthropologists may be changed in a variety of ways by the people with whom they work. It is not uncommon for anthropologists who have had an in-depth encounter with another culture to return to their own societies to discover that they react to many things differently than before. For example, after living in Japan for a year as a young man, I returned to North America to find that the large cities appeared to be much less crowded than what I remembered. I also was more aware of the importance of loyalty in interpersonal relations, and more sensitive to the...

  6. PART III: Taking Our Informants Seriously

    • Seeing They See Not
      (pp. 197-208)

      The question of whether or not we allow ourselves to be affected personally by extraordinary experiences while conducting fieldwork can be conceptualized as a particular variant of a general question in the philosophy of science, “the question of prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery.”¹ In an article with that title, the molecular geneticist Gunther S. Stent (1987:98) raises the question of the appropriate scientific response to “troublesome subjects” such as extrasensory perception (ESP). He notes that there are three possible responses:

      The first of these is that the truth or falsity of ESP, like the truth or falsity of the...

    • Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters
      (pp. 209-236)

      Anthropologists are trained to investigate, analyze and interpret data from cultures different from their own. In our striving to make anthropology scientific, we build constructs, models, and theories. We stress objectivity and neutrality. We struggle to design studies that are replicable and valid. Armed with these scientific concepts, we confront our informant, ready to record and interpret his/her rendition of reality. But often, unwittingly, we distort the data by dissecting and rearranging them [data] into preconceived or superimposed categories and frameworks. In attempting to explain behaviors or beliefs which do not appear rational to us, we use functional or structural...

    • Making a Scientific Investigation of Ethnographic Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
      (pp. 237-270)

      Bourguignon (1976:14) says, “The anthropologist’s task is not to learn about spirits, possession, reincarnation and such matters as ends in themselves. He is interested in spirit beliefsonlyas they inform us about people.” My position has become quite different. I agree we should learn about what other peoples think about such subjects, but after many years of exposure to the Beaver Indian belief in reincarnation, then exposure to Ian Stevenson’s careful studies of cases of children who are said to remember previous lives, and finally after studying cases of reincarnation reported both by the Beaver, Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en Indians...


    • The Experiential Approach to Anthropology & Castaneda’s Ambiguous Legacy
      (pp. 273-297)

      The collective subconscious of anthropology is burdened in a variety of ways by the controversy surrounding Castaneda’s accounts of his spiritual apprenticeship to a Yaqui Indian named Don Juan. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to shed some light on the persistence of Castaneda’s presence, the problems inherent in his position and self-definition, and the ambiguity caused by the association of the experiential approach with his fame.¹

      Castaneda is controversial because his is the first extensive account by a social scientist of spiritual or paranormal experiences,² and because the authenticity of his work has been seriously questioned. Subsequent...

    • Theoretical and Methodological Issues
      (pp. 298-336)

      In their search for knowledge, anthropologists who used to wonder about how their presence might affect the societies and cultures they sought to record tried to devise techniques to control for “experimenter effects,” as they were sometimes referred to. In recent years, anthropologists have come to realize that they are as much responsible for “inventing” or “writing” the cultures they study as their informants, and so have come to cast their reports in the form of dialogues and even multivocal conversations that more accurately reflect the dynamics and pragmatics of the fieldwork process.

      The essays in this collection go one...

    (pp. 337-371)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 372-378)