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Accepted Paper:

Animism and the ecological crisis  
Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

If we trade in modern epistemology for animism, are we to replace the ecological crisis with a permanent cannibalist crisis?

Paper long abstract:

With animism, Edward Burnett Tylor had created a term that at once allows subordinating non-modern concepts under modern epistemology and at the same time opens up this epistemology to radical difference. In particular, animism addresses personhood as an ongoing project encompassing humans and non-humans. This raises the question if animism, both as concept and ethnography, harbors the potential of an alternative to modern techno-scientific epistemology, especially on the background of the ecological crisis. Some writers and activists associate animism with respect for all living beings and a more intimate relationship with nature and its spirits. However, many people whose ontologies have been described as animist are more concerned with keeping those spirits at a distance. This discrepancy between animist conceptions and their political use begs the question if the current interest in animism amounts to romantic exoticism or rather an innovative way of addressing the ecological crisis. What is more, even if respect for all living beings might contribute to overcome the ecological crisis, it instigates its own, cannibalist, crisis. Still, the recognition that relationships with the non-human world are as complex as relations among persons might ultimately prove to be more adequate than naturalism.

Panel P071
Legacies and futures of animism in the anthropocene
  Session 1