The Sore that Does Not Heal

  • Thomas J. Csordas
Part of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion book series (CAR)


The problem of causal reasoning about illness is one of the enduring questions of anthropology, attracting perennial interest ever since the time of Tylor (Zempleni 1985). The Navajo ethnomedical system, one of the most extensively studied, is known to be particularly concerned with the determination and elimination of causes of illness. Two features of the Navajo literature are of relevance for the present argument. First, within the Navajo system anthropologists have identified etiological processes such as witchcraft, spiritual contagion, encounters with ghosts, and violation of taboo and, in practice, have classified Navajo healing ceremonies by the pathogenic agents they are intended to eliminate. However, not much attention has ever been paid to how these pathogenic agents are said to operate on or within people. Second, it is understood that Navajo ethnomedicine does not have a highly elaborated classification of diseases that can be matched with these general causal processes (Werner 1965); in principle, any cause can bring about any disease. Rarely has it been acknowledged that particular causes may be associated with particular symptoms or has a particular disorder been identified and analyzed (Levy, Neutra, and Parker 1987). Thus, the analysis of causal reasoning tends to stop with identifying causes and does not go on to a more complete account of cause and effect.1


Causal Attribution Causal Reasoning Etiological Category Leading Element Etiological Process 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Thomas J. Csordas 2002

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  • Thomas J. Csordas

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