Though the people of Burma, now called Myanmar, are formally Buddhist, their folk religion a type of animism or supernaturalism is so unlike classical Buddhism that it seems contradictory. For years scholars of religion and anthropology have debated the questions: Do these folk beliefs make up a separate religious system? Or is there a subtle merging of supernaturalism and Buddhism, a kind of syncretism? In either case, how exactly does folk religion fit into the overall religious pattern? Melford Spiro's Burmese Supernaturalism has been one of the major works in this debate, both for its position on the "two religions" question and for its arguments concerning the psychological basis of religion.
The book begins with an introduction to the study of supernaturalism. The next section of the work covers various types of supernaturalism, including witches, ghost, and demons. Other areas of discussion include supernaturally caused illness and its treatment, the shaman, the exorcist, and the relationship between supernaturalism and Buddhism.
In the introduction to this expanded edition Spiro further develops the underlying logic of his argument and evaluates the most recent contributions to the field of the anthropology of religion. Burmese Supernaturalism is an intriguing study and will provide insightful reading for anthropologists, sociologists, theologians, as well as those interested in supernaturalism in Burma (Myanmar) and other cultures.