Knowledge and Secrecy in an Aboriginal Religion

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1998 - Social Science - 368 pages
This book describes the control of religious knowledge in north-east Arnhem Land, primarily from the point of view of Yolngu men. Ian Keen examines the framing of religious forms and the control of the dissemination of knowledge in three contexts: age and gender relations; among socialnetworks centred on patrifilial group identity; and in relationships with people of a wider region, including the use of more universal symbols such as those from Christianity to forge links with non-Aboriginal community. He concludes by discussing the effect of post-colonial social and religiouschanges on Yolngu power relations, especially on the power of older men, which had its basis in the control of secret religious knowledge.Yolngu religious practice is constituted in indeterminacy and ambiguity; people co-operate in enacting common religious forms while interpreting those forms differently. Dr Keen draws on recent post-structuralist social theory to discuss this heterogeneity of culture and practice. It is, heargues, the pervasive indeterminacy and contestability of meaning that makes it possible to conceptualize the embedding of north-east Arhem Land social life in wider social formations, while recognizing the relativity of Yolngu perspectives on social and religous reality.

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About the author (1998)

Ian Keen, Senior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University.

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