Legacies and futures of animism in the anthropocene

Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)
Scott Simon (Université d'Ottawa)
Start time:
23 July, 2016 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Taking stock of mainstream and marginalized views in anthropology, we examine animism as philosophy, religion, epistemology, or ontology regarding relations between humans and non-humans. Can anthropological intellectual legacies about animism contribute to better futures in the Anthropocene?

Long abstract:

The ontological turn in anthropology has revived classical concepts of animism or totemism as contrasting ways of living in the world and relating with other beings. These legacies go back to founders of anthropology, including Edward Burnett Tylor, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, and Franz Boas, but there are also lesser known thinkers in all national traditions. Animism, which recognizes fundamental commonalities and essential relationships between all living things, has sometimes been studied as a stage in evolution or a marker of cultural alterity. New approaches by Philippe Descola, Tim Ingold or Eduardo Kohn suggest that animism contains the potential for a serious alternative to the ideological foundations of modern science and economy. New perceptions and analyses of bio-diversity, human-environment relations and interspecies relationships are among the promises this approach holds. However, reflection must begin by dealing with unresolved questions and contradictions within our own discipline. Taking stock of mainstream and marginalized views on animism in anthropology, past and present, we will examine animism as philosophy, religion, epistemology, and ontology about the non-human environment. How does animism interact and articulate with, or contradict and resist, other ways of knowing and being that we may think of as religions or sciences? What marginal schools of thought in anthropology can inspire new thought? What are the potential pitfalls and drawbacks of this approach? Can anthropological understandings of animism and the nexus of life contribute to earthbound futures in the Anthropocene? We invite papers on case studies with theoretical relevance, theoretical and historical papers.