The Religions of Oceania

The Religions of Oceania

The Religions of Oceania

The Religions of Oceania


More than a quarter of the world's religions are to be found in the regions of Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, together called Oceania. The Religions of Oceania is the first book to bring together up-to-date information on the great and changing variety of traditional religions in the Pacific zone. The book also deals with indigenous Christianity and its wide influence across the region, and includes new religious movements generated by the responses of indigenous peoples to colonists and missionaries, the best known of these being the 'Cargo Cults' of Melanesia.The authors present a thorough and accessible examination of the fascinating diversity of religious practices in the area, analysing new religious developments, and provideing clear interpretative tools and a mine of information to help the student better understand the world's most complex ethnologic tapestry.


This is the first book ever to be published in English on the religions of the south-west Pacific as a whole. Almost a quarter of a century ago, Hans Nevermann, Ernest Worms and Helmut Petri published Die Religionen der Südsee und Australiens (1968), and a French translation was made soon after. Worms and Petri's section on Aboriginal religion, which constituted a little more than half of the original, has only very recently appeared in English, but alas, their material, always disjointed and uneven, is now also thoroughly dated. A new work, such as this volume, is the only answer.

Why, it may be asked, a book on the religions of Oceania at all? We are tempted to reply with those mountaineers determined to scale remote peaks-'because it is there!' The religions of Oceania-Australia, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia-provide a colourful, informative and rewarding area of study. It is a region, furthermore, which despite having been neglected in its own right has been profoundly influential, perhaps more than any other area, on our theorizing upon and understanding of religion in general.

There remains, however, another angle to the question of why a book on the religions of Oceania. For unlike lofty mountain peaks standing boldly against the horizon, it might be asked to what extent Oceania is really there to be scaled. After all, the south-west Pacific has hundreds of language and cultural groups, not to mention an immense history which will mostly remain forever concealed. In what meaningful sense can all these things be brought together as a reality embraced by the word 'Oceania'?

This query must be squarely faced. Certainly, the traditions of the Pacific islands and Australia are quite distinct; so much so that, like Nevermann et al., we have kept them quite separate in this book, although our chapters correspond and interrelate (as our table of contents indicates) far more than those in our predecessor's book.

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