African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing (African Systems of Thought)

By Philip M. Peek

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This specific selection of essays by means of a very good overseas staff of Africanists demonstrates the imperative position that divination keeps to play all through Africa in protecting cultural platforms and in guiding human motion. African Divination structures deals insights for present discussions in comparative epistemology, cross-cultural psychology, cognition reports, semiotics, ethnoscience, spiritual stories, and anthropology.

"This quantity of finely crafted case stories can also be the automobile for a huge basic concept of divination.... it is a booklet overflowing with rules that may powerfully stimulate extra research." ― Journal of formality Studies

"The essays during this assortment supply a truly precious review of either the variety of African divination structures and of modern methods to their study." ― Choice

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Surprisingly, the broad theoretical orientation of American cultural anthropologists did not encourage consideration of divination; their studies of traditional religions  barely touch the topic. Evans­Pritchard suggests that Americans ignored religious systems because they were primarily concerned with the emotions of religious  activity (1965:38–39). five  An intellectual atmosphere similar to that which stifled divination study in England evidently predominated in the United States, as illustrated by  Lessa and Vogt's characterization of divination as mere coin flipping—a description they have left unchanged since the first edition of their anthology over thirty years  ago (1979:333). Little work was done by American anthropologists on the topic until Bascom began to publish his lifelong research on the Ifa divination system of the  Yoruba (1941). Although Bascom avoided theoretical pronouncements, the extent of his work surely indicated the value of studying divination systems. Gebauer  (1964), Moore (1979), Park (1967), Fernandez (1967), and Bohannan (1975) published significant analytical studies, but a cohesive body of research never  built. Fernandez's afterword to this volume offers an honest self­appraisal of the attitudes toward divination held at that time. 6  Even with the development of  ethno­science, such epistemologies as manifest in divination sys­    Page 7 tems were not approached; nor have the fields of symbolic and cognitive anthropology turned to this topic, although the Colbys' recent work on Maya divination  (1981) and Daniel's on Tamil divination (1984:chap. 5) may signal a change. The Influence of Evans­Pritchard Returning to England to review the work of Evans­Pritchard and the British social anthropologists, we will gain a better insight into the absence of extensive study of  African divination systems. Evans­Pritchard's influential Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande, published in 1937, was the first serious treatment of  divination; it, along with his other writings, confronts several theoretical issues in the study of non­European religions. Here we can only comment on a few key issues  raised in his phenomenological study of Zande divination and discussions of the dichotomization of religion and rationality by anthropologists. 7 Evans­Pritchard's critique of the biases affecting the study of religion is found throughout his writings; the argument was formed rather early (Douglas 1981). In the  introduction to Nuer Religion, he addresses the most basic problem: So strong has been rationalist influence on anthropology that religious practices are often discussed under the general heading of ritual together with a medley of rites of quite a  different kind, all having in common only that the writer regards them as irrational; while religious thought tends to be inserted into a general discussion of values. Here the view is  taken that religion is a subject of study sui generis, just as are language or law. (1967:viii) Religion has to be studied as a system, and Evans­Pritchard stresses that the ethnographer's religious orientation is critical, "for even in a descriptive study judgement  can in no way be avoided" because those who "give assent" to religious beliefs write differently than those who do not (1967:vii).

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