Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

R. Brooke Thomas

Second Advisor

Cecile A. Carson

Third Advisor

David Samuels

Subject Categories

Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Following cultural anthropological inquiry, this dissertation examines the adoption of shamanic healing techniques into Western medicine and the resultant hybrid modality of health care fostered by two disparate healing traditions. As the U.S. populace increasingly turns to alternative forms of healing in conjunction with, or in lieu of, conventional Western medicine, shamanic healing has been added to the list of recognized non-conventional therapies. Shamanism, once prevalent throughout most of the world in various cultural forms, is purported to be the oldest healing modality, dating back to the Upper Paleolithic in Siberia. Historical excoriation and extermination from religious and political dogma have plagued shamanic cultures for centuries while their healing practices have been rebuked by Western concepts emergent from the Scientific Revolution--whereupon the Cartesian Split and a corporeal view of the body transformed the field of medicine. In the United States, over the last decade, a new and growing subculture of health care practitioners, including "Western" educated medical practitioners, is seeking out shamanic training for personal and professional development. This study examines how the adoption of a healing paradigm borne out of indigenous cultures oriented toward communal living and local economies is adapted to a Western culture steeped in individualism, commercialization, and commodification. Through surveys, interviews, and ethnographic research, the investigator provides numerous examples and analysis of the practice of shamanic healing techniques in medical clinics, health care centers, and hospitals. In particular, this study will focus on the shamanic training of health care practitioners, their motivations, the manner in which they incorporate shamanic healing techniques into their treatment protocols, as well as patient/colleague/administrative responses and institutional barriers. A comparative analysis provides discussion on both the metamorphosis of shamanic healing traditions appropriated within a biomedical framework as well as the influence of spiritually-based healing practices upon the established medical culture in the United States today. Through the lens of highlighted individual experiences, the investigator offers insight into an emerging hybrid healing modality embedded in cultural contrasts that also serves as a catalyst for the renegotiation of the meaning of healing.