HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article (in French) on the intersections between the history of the Native American Church and the history of anthropology from the late nineteenth century to the present.
Grillot, Thomas, 2021. “La Native American Church, l’anthropologie états-unienne et le peyote” [Transl. “The Native American Church, Anthropology in the United States and Peyote”], in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
The Native American Church (NAC) is an example of a co-creation involving anthropologists and the peoples they study. Incorporating in its rituals the consumption of a hallucinogen of Mexican origin, peyote, the NAC offers a privileged point of view on a little-known aspect of anthropological work: the contribution of some of the representatives of the discipline to the crossing or reinforcement of borders. This issue is addressed through an analysis of expert testimony, defending peyote consumption as a religious right of Native American tribal communities. James Mooney (1861-1921) played a founding role in the development of this professional tradition of testimony that contributes as much to legitimizing a practice as to setting its standards. A second generation took over in the 1930s. After the Second World War, it played the role of gatekeeper, when consumption extended beyond the members of the NAC and a small circle of American and European elites.
The great popularity of Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998)’s writings marks a turning point in this respect. While they shed light on the existence of other practices of peyote consumption across the U.S.-Mexico border, the controversy that soon surrounded them also tainted this openness with a suspicion of fraud. The consumption of peyote was largely enshrined in the various laws protecting the freedom of worship of Native American populations in the United States between the 1970s and 1990s, but strictly reserved for the NAC. It is then as a distinct and essentially American tradition that the rituals of this church come to irrigate a trans-American Amerindian spirituality in selected sites in Mexico. This surprising article by Grillot traces the history of the NAC and its crossings with the history of anthropology.