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People Trees is about religious conceptions of trees within the cultural world of tree worship at the tree shrines of northern India. Sacred trees have been worshiped for millennia in India, and today tree worship continues there in abundance among all segments of society. In the past, tree worship was regarded by many Western anthropologists and scholars of religion as a prime example of childish animism or primitive religion. More recently, this aspect of world religious cultures is almost completely ignored in the theoretical concerns of the day. Incorporating ethnographic fieldwork and texts never before translated into English, David Haberman reevaluates concepts such as animism, anthropomorphism, and personhood in the context of the worship of the pipal, a tree of mighty and ambiguous power; the neem, an embodied form of a goddess whose presence is enhanced with colorful ornamentation and a facemask appended to its trunk; and the banyan, a tree noted for its association with longevity and immortality. Along with detailed descriptions of a wide range of tree worship rituals, here is a spirited exploration of the practical consequences, perceptual possibilities, and implicit environmental ethics suggested by Indian notions about sacred trees.
David L. Haberman is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.