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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Shamanic classes for nurses? Not yet
Sensitivity, scam or sacrilege? Advocates and critics have suggested a shamanism diploma may be any of these, leading a Twin Cities college to delay the program.

Pioneer Press
Article Last Updated: 04/15/2007 10:33:39 PM CDT

A local college hoped to be the first in the nation to offer a diploma in shamanic studies where students would "learn and practice core knowledge and skills in shamanism."

Officials at Minneapolis Community and Technical College said the courses, co-designed and taught by a shaman, would bridge "shamanism and bio-medicine in modern health-care settings" and could appeal especially to nurses. School leaders said repeatedly they wouldn't be training students to be shamans.

On Thursday, however, after months of planning, the school postponed plans for the diploma after American Indians raised concerns about what, exactly, would be taught.

Despite having taken the idea off the table for the fall, the college expects to retool the shamanic studies concept. It's clear, though, that it will need to walk through a minefield of religious, social and medical issues.

Critics call the plan nothing more than specious medical training dressed up as cultural studies.

"This is no more valid than a degree in astrology," said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who operates the Web site Quackwatch.org. "Do you want to be known as the school that gives diplomas in astrology?"

At some point, the school's leadership also may need to answer a version of the eternal parental lament: What are you going to do with a degree in shamanic studies?

It's not clear how much it would help nurses or other medical professionals to spend the year and a half it would take to earn the diploma. The Minnesota Board of Nursing doesn't mandate specific classes but does allow for coursework promoting culturally competent care.

The degree's supporters are answering skeptics, including believers in spiritual healing as well as traditional doctors.

"This is not a program to convince people that shamanism is equal to or superior to any form of healing," said Constance Grauds, who helped design the original diploma plan and is listed as one of two teachers. "This is a program of awareness."

A graduate of the University of Minnesota pharmacy school, Grauds is described in her biography as a natural-medicine specialist and "healer to the healers" who teaches at the college as well as at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spiritual Healing.

She spent more than a decade in Peru as a shamanic apprentice and describes herself as a shaman who works "to unite the science of the Western world with the spirit of the indigenous world to create health and wellness for people and the planet."

Grauds said the ideal diploma candidate would be a nurse who deals with physically and emotionally ill people from many cultures. Such a person, she said, would benefit from "the knowledge there are such things as indigenous healers ... that could be called upon if (family members) so requested."

She acknowledged critics' skepticism. "My goodness, if I were on the other side of this ... I'd be asking the very same questions," she said. She noted, however, that other types of nontraditional healing, such as acupuncture, also faced criticism early on and now are accepted. Grauds said she can teach shamanic studies objectively. "Shamans have day jobs, too," she said.

The classes, some of which already are taught at the college, would focus on "core shamanism" and include sections called "Introduction to Energy Medicine," "Integration of Shamanism and Science" and "Applied Shamanism in the Community."

Concerned they might be seen as training shamans, college officials removed the word "practice" from their original proposal. But critics aren't mollified.

Asked to review the shamanic studies documents, Barrett concluded, "They're going to be teaching nonsense." Of the "Introduction to Energy Medicine" course title, Barrett said, "Energy medicine is a fraud. If they're not going to teach that energy medicine is a delusion, (the class) is a fraud."

The proposal talks about respecting all people and traditions, he said, but "there are a lot of people that don't respect the idea that supernatural forces can be used to alter health outcomes."

Todd Seavey, an editor at the American Council on Science and Health, said most people "tend to think all this stuff is harmless as long as it's kept pleasingly vague, but it's worth asking what price we quietly pay in the form of people who don't seek proper medical care because they think shamanic rituals, or psychics, or quartz crystals, or what have you, can cure their ills."

The council runs healthfacts andfears.com, which casts a skeptical eye on many medical claims.

In the end, the diploma effort was put on hold last week because of the concerns of someone who ultimately backs the program.

"It's a worthwhile effort," said Charles Blacklance, coordinator of American Indian projects for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which includes MCTC.

On Thursday, he shared concerns he'd heard from American Indians, worrying the program would seek to train people in sacred ways. There also were objections to the idea of profiting from various cultures' sacred teachings. Blacklance said he was pleased with the college's decision, which will open the door for more input from American Indians.

"It's very honorable to want to make sure that students graduating from their program understand not just American Indian people but indigenous people from around the world," he said.

Whatever emerges, said Jane Foote, dean of health sciences at the college, the program will sink or swim based on enrollment.

"We just believe that it needs to come forward," Foote said.

Paul Tosto covers higher education.

Related links
New Age mystics, healers, and ceremonies
Shamans, medicine men, or priests?

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