Synopses & Reviews
With Imagining Karma,
Gananath Obeyesekere embarks on the very first comparison of rebirth concepts across a wide range of cultures. Exploring in rich detail the beliefs of small-scale societies of West Africa, Melanesia, traditional Siberia, Canada, and the northwest coast of North America, Obeyesekere compares their ideas with those of the ancient and modern Indic civilizations and with the Greek rebirth theories of Pythagoras, Empedocles, Pindar, and Plato. His groundbreaking and authoritative discussion decenters the popular notion that India was the origin and locus of ideas of rebirth. As Obeyesekere compares responses to the most fundamental questions of human existence, he challenges readers to reexamine accepted ideas about death, cosmology, morality, and eschatology.
Obeyesekere's comprehensive inquiry shows that diverse societies have come through independent invention or borrowing to believe in reincarnation as an integral part of their larger cosmological systems. The author brings together into a coherent methodological framework the thought of such diverse thinkers as Weber, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche. In a contemporary intellectual context that celebrates difference and cultural relativism, this book makes a case for disciplined comparison, a humane view of human nature, and a theoretical understanding of "family resemblances" and differences across great cultural divides.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 413-427) and index.
"This work is a tour-de-force in cross-cultural scholarship, both sound and bold, constructing a new and refreshing theory on the rise to prominence of rebirth eschatology in India. Obeyesekere argues convincingly that 'ethicization' of rebirth through the theory of karma was the new ingredient that transformed a commonplace belief into a central philosophical and eschatological principle in most of Indian theologies. This is a book that will engage and challenge anthropologists, classicists, and Indologists alike, as well as non-specialists interested in culture and religion."and#151;Patrick Olivelle, University of Texas at Austin
"This is a book in the grand tradition of comparative studies, pulling together anthropology, psychology, psychoanalysis, classics, Indology, and history of religions, but in a distinctly contemporary mode. Few scholars would attempt such a project today, let alone pull it off so intriguingly as Obeyesekere does. A brilliant and intellectually courageous book."and#151;Paul B. Courtright, Emory University, author of Ganesha, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings
About the Author
Gananath Obeyesekere is Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He is the author of The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (1997), The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (1984), Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (1984), and The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (1990).
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Karma and Rebirth in Indic Religions: Origins and Transformations
2. Non-Indic Theories of Rebirth
3. The Imaginary Experiment and the Buddhist Implications
4. The Buddhist Ascesis
5. Eschatology and Soteriology in Greek Rebirth
6. Rebirth and Reason
7. Imprisoning Frames and Open Debates: Trobriander, Buddhist, and Balinese