Carlos Castaneda burst on the literary, scholarly, and popular scene in the late 1960s with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, the first of a series of books which detailed his encounter with a Yaqui shaman and introduction into a secret indigenous world. Wildly popular in- and outside of the academy, his first books captured the imagination of a generation and established him as the “icon of an era.” Castaneda’s description of his apprenticeship with a Mexican shaman called “Don Juan” appeared to speak to everything that the counterculture longed for: a wise, spiritual Native American/indígena teacher, his irreverent, soul-searching pupil, altered states of consciousness, exotic lands of timeless, ancient mysteries, and, certainly not in the very least, plenty of mind-altering substances. Probing what Castaneda described as the magical world of “separate realities,” his books popularized anthropology at a time when the field was experiencing drastic change and redefinition.
This talk explores the intersections between Castaneda’s work and larger, transnational changes within the field of anthropology from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Dr. Sluis argues that his bestselling books influenced the formulation of alternate indigenous identities, as well as new directions in anthropology. Examining the relationship between popular culture and the academy, she shows that Castaneda provides a unique window on a series of related phenomena—the rise of a New Left; counterculture spirituality; reformulations of indigenous identity; a politicization of anthropology—that fed into the tangled web of contested power relations of not only society at large, but also the academy itself.