Wiwanyag wachipi

Oglala Sun Dancing: Embodying deep world reciprocity through gifting


  • Fritz Detwiler Adrian College




sun Dance, deep world, reciprocity, gifting, Oglala


Graham Harvey’s reconceptualisation of religion emphasises the relational world of indigenous peoples. His suggestion that religion revolves around negotiating with ‘our neighbours’ is particularly relevant to Native American ritual processes insofar as he extends ‘neighbours’ to other-species persons. Further, by emphasising ‘lived religion’, Harvey turns our attention to the significance of embodied religion as it expresses itself in ceremonial performances. Harvey’s approach is enriched by Ronald L. Grimes’ notion of the way in which indigenous rituals take us into the deep world of other-species communities through a gift exchange economy that promotes the wellbeing of everyone in the neighbourhood.

The present discussion demonstrates the applicability of both Harvey’s and Grimes’ approaches to indigenous religious ritual processes by focusing on James R. Walker’s account of Oglala Sun Dancing. Walker constructs a fourstage ritual process from information he gathered while working as a physician on the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1896 to 1914. The entire process, from the declaration of the first candidates who announce their intention to make bodily sacrifices to the culmination of the ritual process in the last four days where the flesh sacrifices are made many months later, centres on re-establishing and promoting harmonious relations among the Oglala and between the Oglala and their other-species neighbours within the Sacred Hoop. The indigenous methodological approach interprets the process through Oglala cosmological and ontological categories and establishes the significance of Harvey’s approach to religion and Grimes’ approach to ritual in understanding embodied and lived religion.

Author Biography

  • Fritz Detwiler, Adrian College

    Fritz Detwiler is professor of philosophy and religion at Adrian College (Michigan, USA), where he specialises in religion and culture.


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How to Cite

Detwiler, F. (2017). Wiwanyag wachipi: Oglala Sun Dancing: Embodying deep world reciprocity through gifting. Body and Religion, 1(1), 48-69. https://doi.org/10.1558/bar.33076