What Happened to Cargo Cults?

Material Religions in Melanesia and the West

in Social Analysis
Ton OttoAarhus University ton.otto@cas.au.dk

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In contrast to a strong tendency in recent studies of Melanesian religious and political movements that want to discard the term 'cargo cult' for reasons of analytical—and ethical—inadequacy, this article argues that the term remains useful to delineate an empirical field for comparative purposes. Further, it suggests that the central moral and existential crisis that underlies cargo cults has to do with pressure on the traditional exchange system and concomitant notions of personhood and fairness. Finally, it argues that the study of cargo cults provides a vantage point for a culture-critical approach to Western society, as it challenges the sharp distinction between religious and economic values that makes it difficult to understand contemporary moral paradoxes.

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Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology


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