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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access December 7, 2017

Covert Syncretism: The Reception of South Africa’s Sangoma Practise and Spirituality by “Double Faith” in the Contexts of Christianity and of Esotericism

  • Ullrich Relebogilwe Kleinhempel EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Theology


South African Bantu mediumism (of “Sangoma” type) has moved from contexts in African Traditional Religion (ATR) and rural culture into South African Christianity, especially in the African Instituted Churches (AIC), which have adopted and transformed elements of mediumist practice and ritual. In recent years it has spread to urban culture and to white milieus in South Africa and Europe, where it is received in Esoteric contexts and beyond as a form of (alternative) “healing”. The spiritual aspects have been received as expressive of a “universal” spirituality, in particular by Jungian psychoanalysts. This reception involves reinterpretation in Jungian terms as by Ch. Bühler, which may be criticized as ambivalent. Although its concepts, phenomena and experiences exceed the Jungian or Esotericist frames of references, they are acknowledged by some, e.g., J.B.F. Laubscher. On an academic level this reception has been facilitated by approaches of anthropology of experience (V. Turner, W. Dilthey) in dissertations on the authors’ initiation and training as Sangomas, and by L-R.N. Mlisa and J.T. Wreford. In their itineraries of double spiritual or religious and therapeutic practice, epistemic repercussions on both sides and in their academic work are interesting, with observable transformations. Effects of “reductionism” can be observed where Sangomas in academia reframe their practice and its epistemic concepts in terms of Pragmatism or Positivitism or of Esotericism. However, the opposite can also be observed where cosmological and anthropological concepts encoded in Sangoma experience and practice have a transformative effect on the receiving milieus of Esoteric spirituality and Jungian psychoanalysis, and of wider audiences who participate through media of television and internet, literature as well as personal encounter and practice. Even this mediated “dual practice” provides avenues for reception and adaptation in both ways, leading to stimulating debate about cultural conditioning of perception and arcane realms of reality.


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Received: 2017-6-6
Accepted: 2017-11-6
Published Online: 2017-12-7
Published in Print: 2017-12-20

© 2017

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

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