THE RELIGIONS OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS by Ake Hultkrantz

THE RELIGIONS OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A clearly written, sober, comprehensive survey for the intermediate student. Hultkrantz is a notable Swedish scholar, active in the field for over 25 years, author of books and articles in Swedish, German, French, and English. Here he summarizes the gigantic corpus of modern anthropological scholarship on Amerindian religion (of both continents, but primarily North America), dealing first with tribal religions, and then with the religions of the ""American high culture"" (Incas, Mayas, Aztecs, and related peoples). The two biggest problems Hultkrantz faced in organizing all this information were the mind-boggling variety of Indian myths, beliefs, and ritual practices (recall that the unabridged Golden Bough runs to 13 volumes), compounded by the numberless contradictory interpretations put on them by anthropologists. Can we, for example, confidently distinguish between a personal guardian spirit and a nagual (familiar to readers of Castaneda's Tales of Power)? Hultkrantz bravely attacks these complicated issues, compromising, on the whole successfully, between distracting thoroughness and deceptive simplification. Assuming the reader already knows the essential ethnographic facts--that he can tell the Natchez from the Nez Perce--there should be no difficulty in following Hultkrantz's careful reconstruction of New World religion. This is especially true of the second section of the book, with its narrower focus and more leisurely pace. The inevitable loss in a schematic overview such as this one is the rich, colorful detail of Indian life, the sense of Indian culture as a lived reality. So it's disappointing that Hultkrantz's 30-page bibliography systematically ignores the (often first-rate) popular literature on the subject. Otherwise, a highly useful and reliable guide.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1979
ISBN: 0520042395
Publisher: Univ. of California Press