Read/React: "Religious Practices on Trial in AZ"

A man is on trial for sweat lodge deaths. So who are the experts on Indian religion?

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Found this article via one of our Twitter faves @matttbastard. Johnny Flynn of Religion Dispatches discusses the problem with outside experts in cultural matters. Below is an excerpt

New Age guru and erstwhile sweat lodge expert James Arthur Ray was arrested and booked on three charges of manslaughter on February 3, 2010 in Prescott, Arizona. Bail was set at five million dollars, and as of Monday morning February 8, Ray was still in the Yavapai County jail.

Since the October 8 incident that resulted in the deaths of three people in a Ray-led “Warrior Sweat,” Sheriff’s deputies have interviewed hundreds of witnesses in the investigation leading to the indictments. Dozens of participants were treated at area hospitals after the sweat lodge, and by the end of that fatal day Kirby Brown and James Shore were dead. A third participant, Elizabeth Newman, died a week later at a hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona.

...

In following the Ray story over the past few months, I am amazed at the number of non-Indian sweat lodge experts the media has been able to locate. Few Indians if any have been interviewed; and even decidedly liberal MSNBC featured Court TV anchor Ashleigh Banfield as their expert on the sweat lodge.

Banfield’s expertise, admitted on air, was one sweat experience with her stepbrother or brother-in-law (she wasn’t sure how he was related), “step-brother” she added, “that’s it.” And the supposed kin by marriage was, “uhm” not an Indian.

Got it. Indians can’t be experts.

But one white lady in one sweat with someone who is somehow related to her is qualified to tell the world really how it is with Indian traditions.

That is kinda, sorta how James Ray set up his spiritual Ponzi scheme, right? He knew someone who knew someone who did “Indian sweats” and presto and voilà, Ray is taking people on spiritual retreats at 10K a head and then people start dying. So, experts have to be brought in to figure out what happened.

No Indians mind you, just experts.

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