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Identity Systems of Highland Burma: 'Belief', Akha Zan, and a Critique of Interiorized Notions of Ethno-Religious Identity

Deborah E. Tooker
Man
New Series, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1992), pp. 799-819
DOI: 10.2307/2804175
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2804175
Page Count: 21
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Identity Systems of Highland Burma: 'Belief', Akha Zan, and a Critique of Interiorized Notions of Ethno-Religious Identity
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Abstract

While 'belief' as an interiorized, propositional capacity may be universal, when discussing the domain of 'religion' it must be viewed as a trope, that is, as a particular and historically specific Western cultural idiom for expressing people's relationship to tradition. This idiom emphasizes the interiority of ethno-religious identity. Drawing on ethnographic material from the Akha of Northern Thailand and some other Asian societies, it is argued that while 'belief' as an interiorizing notion is relevant in some contexts, it is not at all relevant to Akha cultural discourse on the relationship to tradition. There, ethno-religious identity takes an exteriorized form. This finding is used to expose the assumption of interiority in the various anthropological approaches to religious belief, and its implications for discussions of scepticism and critical thought are explored.

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