How Talking about Indigenous Religion May Change Things

An Example from Talamanca

In: Numen
Bjørn Ola Tafjord University of Tromsø — The Arctic University of Norway, Department of History and Religious Studies pob 6050 Langnes, 9037 Tromsø Norway

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A decade ago, Bribris, an indigenous community in Costa Rica, used to operate with a distinction between “indigenous traditions” and “religions.” More recently, some of them have begun to talk about an “indigenous religion.” This article is about uses of the category “religion” and especially new uses of a globalizing concept of “indigenous religion.” Some of the consequences of the shift in discourse are also discussed. The main point made is this: the adoption and adaptation of a concept of “indigenous religion” enable some Bribris to defend better some of their interests, but it also contributes to an increased influx of foreign ideas, practices, and bodies to previously more sheltered domains of Talamancan society. It testifies to new creativity and new transactions in the struggles for control of identities, activities, and territories, but it also alters the balance between local and trans-local dynamics.

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