I was fortunate to have been invited to visit the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico by Dr. James F. Brooks, SAR President and CEO while I was conducting research on curanderismo at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Dr. Brooks took my husband and I on a tour of the beautiful SAR campus, including the Indian Arts Research Center which houses a breathtaking collection–over 12,000 pieces–of Native art of the the Southwest. The mission of SAR is to bring together artists, scholars from a wide range of disciplines, educators and the interested public to explore questions about the human condition, evolution, culture, history and creative expression.
The research conducted at SAR is not limited to the Southwest, but ranges broadly across time, space, and forms of artistic expression. For example, as Dr. Brooks was taking us through a room where scholars and researchers meet to discuss each others work and think through ideas, he directed our attention to the music manuscripts laying on the tables and explained that SAR had just hosted a group of avant garde Finnish musicians. This was especially exciting to me, as I am an academic as well as a musician, yet I usually separate those two parts of myself. It was very cool to see them being combined in this beautiful setting.
The main reason Dr. Brooks invited me to SAR on this particular day (the tour was a very nice bonus!) was to attend a lecture: Ritual Transformations: Healing, Development, and Culture Show in an Amazonian Society, given by Christopher Ball, McKennan Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College, and Christopher Smeall Fellow, SAR.
From the SAR webiste:
“This presentation addresses two abiding themes in cultural anthropology—the power of ritual to transform states of affairs in the social world, and changes in the meanings and functions of specific rituals under the effects of a globalized politics of identity. Dr. Ball will present ethnographic and textual analysis of the practices and ideologies of Wauja people from the Brazilian Amazon as they engage in healing rites, development projects, and cultural show abroad. He questions how each is a type of ritual that is potentially transformative of powerful social relations and traces how they may also be understood as moments in the transformation of Wauja ritual and Wauja identity.”
This talk was fascinating, especially Ball’s emphasis on the notion that by appropriating outside discourses, indigenous people are not just mimicking but incorporating these discourses into their ritual and cultural practices to get what they need. One of Ball’s main points is that Amazonians are politically creative, not naïve.
One of my questions about traditional healers, curanderas, and shaman is how they are compensated for the spiritual work they do. Of course this varies widely across time and cultures, but Ball explained that for the Wauja, there is a complex pricing system for Wauja Shaman which takes into account the economic situation of the person requesting healing and the economic position of their family and friends. Ball described this as an “Economy of Ritual Diagnosis.”
Before we left, I picked up a copy of Nature, Science, and Religion: Intersections Shaping Society and the Environment (2012) from the SAR Press, also located on the Santa Fe Campus. This is one of the publications that come from the SAR Advanced Seminar Series, and features a variety of essays that explore questions of indigenous moral ecology, social justice, and technology and human interaction with the environment and the spirit world.
After my visit to the School for Advanced Research, I am further convinced of the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and conversations to my work involving the intersection of belief, practice and spirituality in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and to all our work as borderlands historians that explores cultural mixing and negotiation.