Revitalization movement

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Anthropology of religion
Arapaho Ghost Dance, 1900 - NARA - 530915.tif
Arapahoe ghost dance
Social and cultural anthropology

In 1956, Anthony F. C. Wallace published a paper called "Revitalization Movements" [1] to describe how cultures change themselves. A revitalization movement is a "deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture" (p. 265), and Wallace describes at length the processes by which a revitalization movement takes place.

Wallace's model 1956 describes the process of a revitalization movement. It is derived from studies of a Native American religious movement, The Code of Handsome Lake, which may have led to the formation of the Longhouse Religion.

  • I. Period of generally satisfactory adaptation to a group's social and natural environment.
  • II. Period of increased individual stress. While the group as a whole is able to survive through its accustomed cultural behavior, changes in the social or natural environment frustrate efforts of many people to obtain normal satisfactions of their needs.
  • III. Period of cultural distortion. Changes in the group's social or natural environment drastically reduce the capacity of accustomed cultural behavior to satisfy most persons' physical and emotional needs.
  • IV. Period of revitalization: (1) reformulation of the cultural pattern; (2) its communication; (3) organization of a reformulated cultural pattern; (4) adaptation of the reformulated pattern to better meet the needs and preferences of the group; (5) cultural transformation; (6) routinization, when the adapted reformulated cultural pattern becomes the standard cultural behavior for the group.
  • V. New period of generally satisfactory adaptation to the group's changed social and/or natural environment.[citation needed]

Wallace derived his theory from studies of so-called primitive peoples (preliterate and homogeneous), with particular attention to the Iroquois revitalization movement led by Seneca religious leader and prophet Handsome Lake (1735-1815). Wallace believed that his revitalization model applies to movements as broad and complex as the rise of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Wesleyan Methodism.

Scholars such as Vittorio Lanternari (1963) and Peter Worsley (1968) have developed and adapted Wallace's insights.

See also


  1. Wallace, Anthony F.C. 1956. "Revitalization Movements," American Anthropologist 58: 264-281.


  • Kehoe, B Alice, The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, Thompson Publishing, 1989. ISBN 1577664531
  • Vittorio Lanternari. The Religions of the Oppressed; a Study of Modern Messianic Cults. (London: MacGibbon & Kee, [Studies in Society], 1963; New York: Knopf, 1963).
  • Peter Worsley. The Trumpet Shall Sound; a Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia. (New York,: Schocken Books, 2d augmented, 1968).
  • Lamont Lindstrom. Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beynd. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1993).