Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ghost Dancers

From Savage Minds, a joint anthropology blog, some thoughts on Ghost Dancers of the 21st century.

[S]such movements are never about a pure “return to the past” but are, rather, an attempt to “rescue” the past and re-deploy it to create a more satisfying present and future.

The Ghost Dance and its political-spiritual cousins are distinctly modern phenomena, in both their goals and their methodologies. As Saffo writes, “Embracing coveted portions of what one opposes in the service of returning an old order is a signature of the Ghost Dance.” Thus we have nuclear technology, the Internet, and the modern transportation system drafted into service in the interest of restoring the social order—even when the desired social order is Muhammad in Medina, the Jerusalem of the Second Temple, pre-contact North America, or even the New Primitivists’ pre-agricultural nomadism.

It all sounds very much like what Martin Marty and Scott Appleby were saying with the Fundamentalism Project, that fundamentalists use the tools of modernity.

Frankly, I think that most current religion in America is Ghost Dancing--and in a secular but equally mythological way, I live surrounded by Ghost Dancers. Most of them have trophy homes with gates proclaiming the Something-or-other "Ranch."



Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

It strikes me that is no mention of what the actual Ghost Dance movement was in this entry. So.. this idea of "Ghost Dancing" has now become a way to describe ideas that have nothing to do with the survival of Native America?

I would ask we remember also that those original Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee were massacred for their spiritual attempt to remove the white man from their lands. Because of their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of countless others, it is not a phrase I would use lightly.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Oneman said...

I agree with themarigoldtrail's concerns -- and said as much in the post at Savage Minds. It's true that I did not describe the movement in depth, writing only "The original Ghost Dance was a response to very real pressures faced by American Indians at the end of the 19th century—yet the implications of the movement were threatening enough to the social order of the day that the Dance was banned and ultimately the movement destroyed, with much new suffering and bloodshed in the process," but much of the post is concerned with drawing out the implications -- both positive and negative -- of calling modern fundamentalisms "Ghost Dances".

1:13 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

I did not specifically mention the Ghost Dancers of the 1890s because I am assuming that my readers have heard of them. (I know, never assume...)

Saffo, writing for the UC-Berkeley alumni mag, probably made the same assumption.

That said, it's a matter of priorities and perspectives. Do you want to concentrate on the historical particularities of the 1890s ghost dancers? Or do you, as the anthropologists do, wish to see their behavior as part of a larger category of religious response to social disruption, an "end of the world"?

8:42 AM  

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