In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Shamanism

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Encyclopedias
  • The Nature of Shamanism
  • History of Shamanism and Shamanism Studies
  • Shamanism and Healing
  • Drugs, Altered Consciousness, and Shamanism
  • Gender and Shamanism
  • Individual Shamans
  • Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Shamanism
  • Neoshamanism and New Age Shamanism
  • Journals

Anthropology Shamanism
Donald Pollock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0132


Shamanism has been regarded as one of the world’s oldest religions as well as one of its newest; evidence of shamanic practice has been found in Paleolithic cave art, and shamanic experiences are being cultivated in contemporary societies, especially in its “New Age” or neoshamanism variations. The narrowest conceptions of shamanism restrict the use of the term to a specific form of religious practice found in Siberia, where the Tungus religious practitioner called šamán provided the model; Mircea Eliade’s classic study of shamanism (see Eliade 1964, cited under History of Shamanism and Shamanism Studies) grants historical and conceptual priority to this form of belief and practice, and traces its spread from those Siberian roots. Alternatively, it has been argued that the concept of shamanism should be extended to a nearly universal set of beliefs about spirits, spiritism, and occult realms. Bean 1992, for example (cited under North American and Native American Shamanism), comments that “Shamanism is the religion of all hunting and gathering cultures, and it forms the basis of many more formalized religions that retain shamanistic elements” (p. 8). Anthropologists have often adopted this broader perspective, seeking similarities among overtly different traditions typically by linking them according to the social functions served by shamans (e.g., healing through spirit intervention, community protection from malign spirit attack, and the pursuit of community political goals through the medium of spiritism). This bibliography adopts the relatively broad view that “shamanism” is a useful concept to describe a set of religious phenomena of historical depth and wide ethnographic extent, and that there is value in considering how a range of beliefs and practices are related to a basic set of defining characteristics, along with their relationship to other social and cultural phenomena. “Shamanism” has been recently described as a form of interaction between a practitioner and spirits, one that is not available to other members of a community; the practitioner (a “shaman”) acts on behalf of that community—or on behalf of individual members of that community—to perform a variety of social roles that may include healing as well as harming, affecting the outcome of subsistence activities, and so on, by intervention with spirits or through knowledge gained by communication with spirits (see Webb 2013 under the Nature of Shamanism, p. 62). As such, shamans are found in a variety of cultures that are not traditionally associated with the concept, for example as spirit mediums in sub-Saharan Africa and through spirit possession in East Asia. This bibliography considers these themes through sections on the history of the concept itself, studies of the nature of shamanism, and analyses of shamanism in various cultures around the world.


There are few comprehensive bibliographies of shamanism. Jones 2008 and Osterreich 1998 both cover North America. DeMiller 2002 is a general bibliography of major sources. However, good bibliographies may be found in a number of the sources listed in this article, including Pratt 2007 and Walter and Fridmann 2004 (cited under Encyclopedias.) Cited under the Nature of Shamanism, Atkinson 1992 includes a long bibliography, mostly of work from the 1970s and 1980s. References in the sections on shamanism in various geographical regions are also valuable for presenting specialized bibliographies, for example of the literature on Siberian shamanism in Russian.

  • DeMiller, Anna. 2002. Shamanism: A selected annotated bibliography. In The Anthropology and Sociology Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). American Library Association.

    A wide-ranging bibliography of over forty basic monographs and several Journals.

  • Jones, Peter N. 2008. Shamans and shamanism: A comprehensive bibliography of the term’s use in North America. Boulder, CO: Bauu.

    A bibliography of over 450 published sources on shamanism in North America, from 1854 to 2004. Jones focuses on the use of the terms “shaman” and “shamanism” to clarify how these have been used in reference to Native Americans and First Nations cultures.

  • Osterreich, Shelley Anne, comp. 1998. Native North American shamanism: An annotated bibliography. Bibliographies and Indexes in American History 38. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

    An extensive annotated bibliography focusing on North American sources going back to the 17th century. Separate sections on Books, Articles, and Reports. Osterreich includes many works on Native American religion and ritual that go beyond shamanism more narrowly defined. The bibliography is not exhaustive but the annotations are extensive and detailed.

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