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Brandeis Anthropology
Summary of Book

Immortal Wishes is a powerful ethnographic rendering of religious experiences of landscape, healing, and self-fashioning on a northern Japanese sacred mountain. Working at the intersection of anthropology, religion, and Japan studies, Ellen Schattschneider focuses on Akakura Mountain Shrine, a popular Shinto intitution founded by a rural woman in the 1920s. For decades, local spirit mediums and worshipers, predominantly women, have undertaken extended stints of shugyo (ascetic discipline) within the shrine and on the mountain's slopes. Their elaborate, transforming repertoire of ritual practice and ascetic discipline at Akakura, argues Schattschneider, has been generated by complex social and historical tensions, largely emerging out of the uneasy status of the surrounding area within the modern nation's industrial and postindustrial economies.

Schattschneider shows how, through dedicated work at the shrine--including demanding ascents up the sacred mountain--worshipers over time project aspects of themselves into this evocative landscape and are gradually opened to intimate contact with the purifying domains of divinities and ancestors. Each worshiper comes to associate the rugged mountain landscape with her personal biography, the life histories of certain exemplary predecessors and ancestors, and the collective biography of the extended congregation. Schattschneider argues that this body of ritual practice presents each worshiper with a field of imaginative possibilities, through which she may dramatize or reflect upon the nature of her relations with loved ones, ancestors, and divinities. In some cases, worshipers significantly redress traumas in their own lives or in the recollected economic careers of their families and ancestors. In other instances, these ritualized processes have led to deepening crises of the self, the accelerated fragmentation of local households, and apprehended possession by demons or ancestral forces.  Immortal Wishes reveals how these varied practices and outcomes have over time been incorporated into the changing organization of ritual, space, and time on the mountainscape.

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Readers' Comments

"Ellen Schattschneider has given us an account of Japanese religious experience that is at once powerfully evocative and analytically sophisticated. Immortal Wishes is a remarkable book that should prove invaluable not only for students of Japan but also for anyone wanting to understand the transformative power of religious experience."-Bradd Shore, Emory University

"Immortal Wishes reveals the deeply embodied nature of a religion which is physically labored at with a subtlety and intensity that is as sensuous as it is spiritual. It is this aesthetic - personal, historical, collective- that Ellen Schattschneider captures with the delicacy of her prose and analysis" --Dr. Anne Allison, Duke University.

Ellen Schattschneider is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University.

Book Details:

272 pages (April 2003)
31 b and w photos, 5 figures
ISBN 0-8223-3075-X Cloth - $64.95
ISBN 0-8223-3062-8 Paperback - $21.95

immortal wishes:
labor and transcendence
on a Japanese sacred mountain

Ellen Schattschneider

Duke University Press (2003)














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