Indigenous Psychology of Spirituality
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Indigenous Psychology of Spirituality

In My Beginning is My End

Alvin Dueck

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Indigenous Psychology of Spirituality

In My Beginning is My End

Alvin Dueck

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This book presents cutting-edge research and theory in the emerging field of the indigenous psychology of religion. Its authors examine the influence of colonization and illustrate the use of novel research methodologies utilised in studies with communities in India, Korea, China, Indonesia, America, and Poland. Whereas Western psychology has traditionally viewed religion through an institutional lens and from a Euro-American perspective, this book aims to facilitate an understanding of indigenous spiritualities on their own terms and from the indigenous people's lived experience.

In doing so, the contributors seek to support indigenous communities in the recovery of their voice, original vision, and ancient practices, and to follow their yearning as echoed in T. S. Eliot's words: "In my beginning is my end." The book is replete with examples of this recovery of indigeneity in, for example, Chinese notions of harmony and resilience; cultural differences in hearing the voice of the divine; the influence of animism on Christians in Korea; and in savoring the bereavement of loved ones.

This novel collection presents fresh insights for students and scholars of the psychology of religion, indigenous studies, cultural psychology, and anthropology.

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© The Author(s) 2021
A. Dueck (ed.)Indigenous Psychology of SpiritualityPalgrave Studies in Indigenous Psychology
Begin Abstract

1. “In My Beginning Is My End”

Alvin Dueck1
School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, USA
Alvin Dueck
IndigeneitySpiritualityCulture and psychological processesCultural identityCulture and religion
End Abstract
In the midst of the Second World War, T. S. Eliot opined “We can have very little hope of contributing to any immediate social change; and we are more disposed to see our hope in modest and local beginnings, than in transforming the whole world at once
 We must keep alive aspirations which can remain valid throughout the longest and darkest period of universal calamity and degradation” (quoted in Gordon, 2000, p. 353). In terms of “local beginnings,” Eliot may have been referring to East Coker, a small community in Somerset, England that brought for him a measure of hope. It was directly connected to his ancestors, who had lived in this village for some 200 years. In retrospect, he penned these words about East Coker.
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
(Eliot, 1943/1968, p. 23)
The poem, East Coker, articulates the hope that the English communities would survive the war as the writers of this manuscript hope for the survival of indigenous communities and their spirituality—in spite of the violence perpetrated against them by modernism. The poem is applicable to those indigenous peoples who seek meanings in their origins, in their beginnings. As Eliot suggests, ours is a time when cultures rise and fall, are destroyed and restored; a time for building and generative living, and a time to shake the dust from ancient arras (tapestries) for wisdom today.
In addition to encouraging those who seek meaning in their roots, this book also seeks to encourage the psychological community to take more seriously the role of local cultural contexts as they attempt to understand how culture and psychological processes shape spiritual experiences and practices. A third motivation is for our research to serve as a moral witness to the suffering of indigenous communities caused by the toxic effects of Western globalism, neoliberalism, and secularism. The effects of colonialism have been devastating: the loss of mother tongues, traditions, rituals, practices, and beliefs. At the current rate, 60–90% of the world’s some 7000 languages may be at risk of extinction within the next 100 years (Nettle & Romaine, 2000).
Not surprisingly, there are calls by indigenous peoples for a recovery of what has been lost (Alfred & Corntassel, 2005), a return to beginnings. What interventions might help recover the beginnings of a people? In the Canadian province of British Columbia, there are some 200 aboriginal groups—some of which have suicide rate 800 times the national average. However, for 50% of the groups suicide is essentially unknown (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998). What accounts for this difference? Chandler and Lalonde found that some communities had greater cultural resources and commitment if they had:
  1. 1.
    Taken steps to secure an aboriginal title to their traditional lands;
  2. 2.
    Taken back from government agencies certain rights of self-government;
  3. 3.
    Obtained a degree of community control over educational services;
  4. 4.
    Developed police and fire protection services;
  5. 5.
    Developed their own health delivery services; and
  6. 6.
    Established within their communities officially recognized ‘cultural facilities’ to help preserve and enrich their cultural lives.
The number of youth suicide rates were directly correlated to the presence or absence of these cultural resources in their community. Chandler and Lalonde tested the impact of the presence or absence of all six cultural resources in a given community on the suicide rate in that same community and obtained astonishing results. The suicide rate was near 137.5 per 100,000 if none of the six factors were present. If all six cultural continuity factors were present, the suicide rate plummeted to almost zero.
“In my beginning is my end.” The recovery of original cultural resources in a communal context may be a source of life and an antidote to suicide. The presence of cultural institutions fosters mental health and a sense of cultural identity that is protective for the adolescent. A deep awareness of one’s culture and resilience are positively correlated. The data suggests that reestablishing cultural institutions may create a sense of community and cultural pride that protect youth from despair.


Millennia before the West developed the formal discipline of psychology, there were indigenous ethnoreligious communities that possessed what today would be called “folk psychologies.” These folk psychologies encompassed lay views of what it meant to be human, have relationships with one another, mature over time, interpret and interact with nature, acknowledge a deity (or deities) or what is transcendent, address suffering and illness, develop modes of healing, encounter death, and so on. Over time, these psychospiritual understandings were, in some communities and in varying degrees, rationally systematized, elaborated in stories, and incarnated in practices. These hunter-gatherer communities understood the significance of nurturing their young with touch, attending to their needs, and embedding the emerging adult in a close-knit community (Narvaez, 2014; Narvaez et al., 2019)—all of which are psychological processes. In other words, they became what Geertz (2008) called a local culture. These societies and their spirituality have existed for most of human history and have accumulated psychological wisdom that is hidden in their spiritual practices.
Some of these communities emerged to become major modern religions, whereas others did not. As they transcended their local cultural roots and began to encounter other communities, they refined their own convictions, sense of identity, and similarities. In turn, these refinements created a sense of cohesion and differentiation from the cultures of other communities (Harvey, 2000). These communities developed over time a normative discourse to support and interpret their experiences, daily practices, and convictions. For example, Buddhist discourse encouraged letting go of desire (Cohen, 2010) and Pentecostal Christians’ discourse valorized personal conversation with God (Luhrmann, 2012, 2017). Appalachian serpent handlers included in their discourse an explanation for their practice of handling poisonous serpents in their worship by pointing to God’s promise of faithful protection (Hood & Williamson, 2008). The Amish engage in a spiritual practice which includes forgiving their enemies as enjoined by Jesus Christ. This was evident after the Nickel Mines incident, when five Amish girls were raped and killed and the perpetrator was publicly forgiven by one of the Amish leaders (Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, & Nolt, 2013; Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver- Zercher, 2010). Like aboriginal peoples around the world, traditional Chinese Yi people have a nosology of spirit possession and consult with shamans for healing (Ting & Sundararajan, 2018). These ethnoreligious communities have unique and implicit folk psychologies in their spiritualities that undergird their ethical practices and beliefs. These folk theories are the focus of this book, which seeks to honor their indigenous psychologies of spirituality.

The Emergence of Indigenous Psychologies of Spirituality

The question asked in this book is whether the Western paradigm of Psychology of Religion, contextualized as it is within its 100-year history, is capable of understanding indigenous spirituality. It has viewed itself as embedded within mainstream psychology, with its commitments to scientific objectivity, operational definitions, and generalizability. However, the presumption of universality creates significant problems for appreciating the particularities of indigenous religious communities. Additionally, the hegemony of scientific psychological discourse may undermine local psychological and epistemological discourses (Gergen, Gulerce, Lock, & Misra, 1996; see also Teo, 2010, 2019 on “epistemic violence”). Gantt and Williams (2018) have pointed to the ways in which scientific psychology overreaches when it presumes to be the only reliable source of knowledge about human nature.
What is the problematic that stimulated indigenous research on spirituality? For the present volume, the issues and responses are fourfold. First, mainstream psychology tends to utilize universal linguistic categories, categories largely borrowed from Aristotle: mind-body, perception, motivation, memory, thinking, attitudes, and so on (Aristotle, 2010). These, however, may not be the categories used by Confucians, Buddhists, Christians, Daoists, Muslims, or animists for describing psychological processes correlative to their spiritual experiences. Instead, religious communities have their own implicit psychologies—a point which was argued by Cox (2010/1973) more than four decades ago. The investigation of indigenous psychologies emerged, in part, in response to the disregard of the impact of local language on the understandings of the psyche and its relationship to spiritual maturity. An indigenous approach does not attempt to develop a universal psychological language; instead, it begins with what a religious community can teach us about psychological processes in its own language. This new information can then be added to the larger picture of what it means to be human.
Second, in the past half century, Western psychologists have become increasingly aware of their social location (Buss, 1975; Gergen et al., 1996; Jacoby, 1975). The assumption that th...


  1. Cover
  2. Front Matter
  3. 1. “In My Beginning Is My End”
  4. Part I. Deconstruction and Reconstruction
  5. Part II. Methodologies Reconsidered
  6. Part III. Indigenous Psychologies of Religion
  7. Back Matter