Accepted Paper:

Non-human environment in African vodun   

Author:

Alessandra Brivio (Università Milano-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The paper is focused on the place of non-humans in vodun. Scholars have only recently started to question the agency of things. Here I discuss vodun as religion, epistemology, and ontology about the non-human environment (animals, things and matter)

Paper long abstract:

The paper is focused on the place of non-humans in vodun. For long time, fetishism and animism had been the notions used to speak of African vodun (fetishism was considered of sub-category of animism). Here I discuss vodun as religion, epistemology, and ontology about the non-human environment (animals, things and matter). The privileging of belief over practice continues to mark much scholarly discourses, notwithstanding a number of radical critiques. Scholars of religion have only recently started to realize that religion is always concretely mediated by things in order to be tangible in the world. The turn to matter has raised crucial questions because religion has so long been imagined as oriented just toward transcendence. Objects are no longer mere bearers of a message or vehicles of human wills.

This theoretical perspective is particularly significant in the religious studies, since it seems to share the language of magic and to generate new insights in order to investigate the uncertain relation between practitioners and the hereafter, and more in general between human beings and their artefacts. It actually rejects the priori oppositions between subjects and objects, visible and invisible and aims to focus on the agency of things.

This approach could give important insights on human relationship with non-human beings and reconcile scholarly and popular discourses on African religions with the problem of materiality, leading to a reconsideration of matter in religious discourses and at the same time eliminating the derogatory meanings that lie at the very basis of fetishism.

Panel P071
Legacies and futures of animism in the anthropocene