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South American Indian Religions

Subject Religion

Place Americas » South America

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631181392.1995.x


[ xxiii ] The South American continent is notable for its enormous linguistic diversity (estimated at some 1,500 different languages, present or extinct), the antiquity of its occupation and the tremendous range of its socio-cultural formations (from small-scale hunter-gatherer societies in Amazonia to imperial states in the Andes). Similarly, the religious lives of South American Indians have displayed an enormous variety of forms. Following five centuries of contact with Europeans, this panorama has been greatly reduced or modified and, given the relative lack of detailed, comparative and historical studies of religion, it is exceedingly difficult to give a composite picture of the whole today. Nevertheless, certain themes emerge from contemporary accounts. C reation myths affirm the divine origin of the universe ex nihilo , through transformation or, most importantly, through multiple epochs. Elaborate cosmological structures ( see C osmology ), coupled with frequently found beliefs in multiple souls and a rich symbolism of the human body, integrate humankind into a system of spatial and temporal orders through which life unfolds. Humanity's relationship to the divine, often through priests and/or S hamans , ranges from worship and supplication to mystical union with divinities, ritual combat or celebration of divinely instituted festivals. Ritual life (calendric feasts, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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