Home Discussion Forum What is your opinion on using the term "shamanism"?

What is your opinion on using the term "shamanism"?

When I was in community college I was advised not to use the word “shaman” to refer to spiritual healers, except when referring specifically to groups from Siberia and the surrounding areas that used that specific word. I am currently at a four year university, and shaman seems to be used by my instructors, especially in my California Indian Ethnography class. What is your opinion on this matter? Personally I lean towards not using it, and using terms like “healer” or “spiritual healer” instead, but I just want to hear what others think.
No, of course we weren’t told to use witch doctor. I believe the terms “healer” and “spirit healer” were most commonly used by our teacher (it was in Native People’s of North America). The reason given was due to the idea of it being a cultural specific term that should only be used to refer to those cultures that used the term, and not applied to other cultures with similar, but not identical beliefs (and different words to describe them). In fact, our teacher took off points if we used that word in our papers. At the time I thought of this avoidance of the term shamanism as a new, emerging thing in anthropology, but after coming to my four year school, and now here, it seems as if this may have been more of a minority view than I thought. I still kind of agree with it though. I just thought more people avoided it.


  1. The term is used very often in the context you describe. I have seen it used for African, South Americans, Southern Asians and Mexicans. I never heard it used for Siberians though that I recall..

  2. When you were told not to use the term, what reason was given? Better yet what term was to be used? Hopefully not a pejorative term such as “witch doctor.”
    Never, ever have I known of an issue with the term. Certainly it’s recognizable and it’s meaning is easily understood.In fact it’s found in a glossary of anthropological terms:
    “shaman – a religious specialist who uses supernatural power in curing. Also called curer or cuerandero.”
    I’m certain some “expert” would quibble over the use of the term but it’s certainly not offensive.
    Wikipedia provides some explaination of the advice you received:
    “The term “shaman” originally referred to the traditional healers of Turkic-Mongol areas such as Northern Asia (Siberia) and Mongolia; Å¡amán being the Turkic-Tungus word for such a practitioner and meaning “he or she who knows.”[3][4] Other scholars assert that the word comes directly from the Manchu language, and indeed is “the only commonly used English word that is a loan from this language”.

  3. shaman is more of the english description. to appropreiately call each healer from different tribes most people would not understand what you mean. some professors just want students to revelle in their intense examination of truth rather than point out obvious truths.


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