Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Sutton, David


Framed by problems and dialogues established in anthropology of religion, ritual studies, and Yi studies, this dissertation explores the processes of religious revitalization and knowledge transformation in contemporary southwestern China among the ethnic Yi people, one of China’s officially designated 55 minority groups. Utilizing ethnographic and visual methods during a 16-month long fieldwork (2016-2017) conducted in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southern Sichuan, this dissertation examines the politics of religion and knowledge in the mapping of both the Chinese state’s modernist transformations of the 20th century and the ways that local Yi ritual specialists (mainly focused on the bimo priest-shamans) and lay participants wrestle with the emerging circumstances of social change. It draws on local discourses of mixin (“superstition”) as a site for untangling China’s historical problematization of “religion” and the concurrent public ambivalence towards the legitimacy and conceptualization of Yi ritual practices. It also tackles the theoretical debate on magico-religious practices and suggests an analytic approach to Yi bimoist ritual knowledge, practice, and power by undertaking a comparative framework of shamanic studies in South America and Inner Asia. In addition, this dissertation develops an ethnographic understanding of the assemblages and trajectories of objects, animal sacrifice, and the materio-socio-sensorial environment in Yi everyday and ceremonial lives. With this, it illustrates how a morally legitimate relatedness in light of a socio-cosmo-genealogical flow of power is casted in a history-in-the-making of an ethnic group.




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