If you are teaching a comprehensive world religions course, you most likely start off the year with a look at indigenous religions around the world. This books is well worth checking out of the library and lugging home (and do use the library! Unless your school will pay for it…) for its beautiful portrayal of a variety of indigenous groups.
It does not focus on religion per se, but by capturing so many different cultures in their native places, it gives insight into the deep link between religion, geography, and traditions that can be difficult to dissect from one another when studying indigenous spiritual beliefs.
Each set of images shows how a group survives, what is important to them, and is complemented by some basic historical and ethnographical details. It would be useful to complement case studies assigned in class, or simply as a beautiful book for students to look through in the minutes before class is starting or as things wind down each day. Some of my favorite images are included in this post, and a link to where I first found the book, on the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, is below.
Source: Stunning Photographs of the World’s Last Indigenous Tribes | Brain Pickings
Or Columbus Day, depending on where you live in the United States and what your political leanings are, one more post about my Indigenous Religions unit. Have you ever used this article about the Nacirema?
Written by Horace Miner in 1956 and published in the American Anthropologist, it’s an academic look at an unusual and oddball culture–our own. I give a shortened version of it to my students as we start the unit on Indigenous Religions, as if its a group we’re about to study. This year I asked kids to reflect on the group and whether or not they could relate to the Nacirema.
A direct student quote: “The Nacirema were so weird. It surprised me just how weird they were. I could not relate at all.”
And then the big reveal! This article about the super-strange Nacirema? It’s about US! The group name is actually a play on words, and the rituals that Miner describes (bathing, brushing teeth, etc…) are in fact practiced by everyone of my students (well, most days).
It’s a good reminder that when encountering new cultures, their practices can seem quite different and even bizarre. But we should approach things with an open mind. We all have rituals, practices, and strange beliefs. Once students realize that the article is about them, they laugh and try to “decode” it. It’s a nice exercise in close reading, and starts a good conversation about anthropology and the study of other cultures.
Mayan women at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and a woman I deeply admire for her courage, said of the indigenous people she represented, “We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected.” Her statement affirms one of the main goals of my teaching when it comes to indigenous religions: to make it clear that these are living religions, parts of existing and present cultures.
A friend of mine recently posted this clip from the Daily Show interviewing Washington NFL fans about their team name. The fans have trouble identifying the name with little more than a piece of ancient history–one asks, somewhat disbelievingly, “Do you know any Native Americans?”–seemingly oblivious to the many Native Americans that live and work in our country today.