Indigenous Entanglements: Shugendō and the Politics of Global Indigeneity

September 25, 2023

Presented by David Lam Centre

Shugendō (literally, “The Way to Acquire Power through Ascetic Acts”) is a traditionally secretive, millennium-old syncretic religion in Japan. It fuses Buddhism with Shinto, mountain worship, and ascetic ritual. In this talk, I describe how a novel form of Shugendō practiced in the northeastern region became influential at the confluence of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of March 2011 and the rise of social media. Some practitioners pursued novel experiences of an old, mostly forgotten religion whereas others, in the wake of disaster, experienced an existential crisis and sought answers through an immersive experience of Shugendō. In the following years, several prominent ascetics from this area became convinced that Shugendō shares a natural affinity with indigenous spirituality beyond Japan. In this talk, I consider emerging dynamics of Shugendō’s indigenous entanglements beyond Japan and how they problematize “global indigeneity” as an anthropological concept and a political category.


Shayne A. P. Dahl is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Lethbridge. He has held previous fellowships at Harvard University and McMaster University. He received his PhD in Sociolinguistic Anthropology at the University of Toronto in 2019. His manuscript, "The Secret World: An Ethnography of Shugendo in Northeastern Japan" is currently under review with the University of North Carolina Press.