We Have Always Been Animists

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Good evening. My name’s Charles Stang. I have the pleasure of
serving as the Director here at the Center. Thank you all for
coming out this evening on what is turning out to be a
not entirely pleasant evening. First of all, let me
thank the Center’s staff for making this event possible,
everything that happens in this building possible. I’d also like to thank the
Center’s Animism Reading Group, now in its second year,
led by one of our residents and MDiv students, Mary Balkin. Mary, could you just
announce yourself? This is Mary. Mary is amazing. Mary’s passions
and interests have been an inspiration for this
series over these past three years, really. Right? This is your third year. Yeah. And I owe to Mary– I did not know of Graham’s
work prior to Mary. So Mary has been an educator of
mine these past several years. And so, before we begin,
can I please ask you to silence your cell phones? Or better, just turn them off. I have the distinct
honor and pleasure of welcoming Professor Graham
Harvey from the Open University in the United Kingdom,
whose lecture falls into one of the Center’s
ongoing series, entitled Matter and Spirit, Ecology
and the Nonhuman Turn. So if you would allow me to a
brief word about the series, then I will give Graham
a proper introduction. Recent work in the humanities
and the social sciences has generated new
interest in the age old religious question of the
relationship between matter and spirit. Let me revisit that request. Thank you. OK. Phones off? Very good. Now, I need to do that myself. Make sure I don’t
embarrass myself. All right. Mine’s silenced, too. Yeah. Payback– karmic payback–
would be very quick. OK. I’m going to start that over. Recent work in the humanities
and the social sciences has generated new interest in
the age old religious question of the relationship
between matter and spirit and its relevance for
the environmental crisis. We now face, on the one hand,
so-called vibrant materialists, such as the political
theorist Jane Bennett, ask us to revise
our view of matter as an inert object we
manipulate and invite us to think instead of the vibrancy
of non-human and allegedly inanimate things. That is, whether they have
agency and creativity. This promises to cultivate
a different ecological sensibility and different sorts
of political interventions in the environmental crisis. On the other hand, for
example, anthropologists have revived interest in
spirits and their interactions with humans. Taking these
phenomena seriously, if not always literally,
taking them seriously as occasions to widen
our notion of agency. Perhaps humans are
just one expression of a more widely
distributed agency spread across the full
spectrum of the alleged antimony of matter and spirit. Richard Grusin of the Center
for 21st Century Studies calls this de-centering of
the human, the non-human turn, or what David Abraham might
call the turn or the return to the more than human world. Could it be that by
shifting our focus away from the human to the
more than human world, we might actually summon
an ecological imagination that better safeguards
humans, precisely by displacing them from
the center of all inquiry and attention? So we hazard to guess that
questions such as these might help us reinvigorate
our thinking about religion and ecology. What can these fields of
inquiry teach religious studies about cultivating an
ecological imagination and a potent activism? And what can religious
studies, in turn, contribute to these fields? I was thrilled when Graham
accepted our invitation to participate in this series. He is professor of Religious
Studies at the Open University, as I said. Over the course
of his career, he has migrated, quite
remarkably, from research on the religions of the ancient
Mediterranean, especially ancient Judaism in
all its diversity, to research on
contemporary paganism, to redefining the
role of religion in and as everyday life,
and most relevant for today, revitalizing the contested
category of animism, which, as we all know, has done
such harm for many traditions around the world. But he’s revived it under the
banner of the new animism. These last three
interests of his are all very closely
related, of course, and involve drawing
on and drawing in contemporary indigenous
traditions, especially how traditional human
communities engage with the larger
than human world. His work is represented
by an impressive list of publications, including
Contemporary Paganism in its second edition,
Food, Sex, and Strangers, Understanding Religion as
Everyday Life in 2013, and then most relevant for this
evening’s topic, Animism, Respecting The Living
World, again, also in its second edition, and the
monumental edited collection, The Handbook of
Contemporary Animism. Graham’s lecture
this evening will touch upon many of these
themes, particularly through blurring the lines of
relationality between the human and the more than human. He starts with Bruno
Latour’s assertion that we have never been modern,
suggesting that we have never ceased to be animists. We talk with cats,
cars, and computers. We have continued to have
relations within the more than human world. But our relations
are clearly damaged by ongoing efforts
to separate humans and human culture from quote,
unquote nature and humans from other species. Engaging with indigenous
knowledges, Professor Harvey– Graham, forgive me. Being casual. Graham. Seeks to replace quote, unquote
nature with more respectful relationships with the world. It’s a great pleasure to have
you here at the Center, Graham. Please join me in welcoming him. Thank you very much
for that introduction. I think that all the important
things have been said. So we can get back to the food. It’s a great honor
to be invited. Thank you, Charles,
Mary, and Ariella Ruth, for all the preparation
and the work involved. I had a very, very wonderful
meeting with the student group yesterday. So lots of interesting
conversations. It’s a great privilege to have
so many interesting people here now, so I’m looking forward to
a conversation with you all. I also want to pay respect– I am paying respect to the
indigenous people of this land and indeed, to this land
itself, herself, himself, theirselves, as
they speak to us, and the community of multiple
living beings around us here. So it is a great honor. And it’s also something
of a challenge, because I am well aware that I’m
using a word, “animism”, that is hotly contested, even
abhorrent, to many people. It continues to be used
badly, colonialistly. If you were to open the Oxford
English Dictionary to work out, to find out what
the word might mean, allegedly, you will
find a definition that basically tells you
that a bunch of idiots can’t tell the difference
between inanimate objects and living beings. It’s not a useful definition. Definitions should not tell
you that other people who use this word are wrong. So if you’re going to
use the word “inanimate”, you can’t really engage
very heavily with animism. I’m getting ahead of myself. It is a great honor to be here. And also, knowing
that you’ve had other very interesting,
influential, important people in this series, I’m
not entirely sure that I revitalized this field. I think that I may have
been the first person to use the phrase “new animism”. It’s been alleged by
others that I did so. So I’m quite happy with that. As Charles has
already said, I have published a number of things. Myself and with others. And always engaging with
others, both other scholars and with other informants,
hosts, generous people who share their knowledge,
wisdom with me and with others. These are two examples. My Animism Respecting
The Living World and the badly named Handbook
of Contemporary Animism. At least two hands to hold the
thing, sort of a large book. But it has some great writing
in it by many wonderful people. So just in case there’s
anybody who hasn’t yet grasped the kind of thing
that the new animism is about, Irving Hallowell is
cited by almost all of us engaged in this field. I think Hallowell
spent significant time with the Anishinaabe,
Ojibwa, [INAUDIBLE] Chippewa, various names, in
southern central Canada on the Berens River in Manitoba. Number of articles, but most
well known for an article in 1960 about Ojibwa ontology. Way before the ontological turn. I think Hallowell was out
there writing about ontology and challenging
fellow anthropologists to take seriously
and deal respectfully with indigenous ways
of being and relating. So in a significant moment
in Hallowell’s 1960 article, Hallowell asks an elder– unnamed in that article,
but revealed elsewhere as [? Kiwich– ?] he asks
this man, are all the rocks we see around us here alive? And the old man says– wonderful answer–
no, but some are. And then they begin to
unpack what that might mean. With some humor,
with some trickiness. The basic point– and I’m
not going to belabor this, because I said it
too many times, and we want to move
on to the topic– the basic point is that
in Anishinaabe [INAUDIBLE] grammar, and that of many
Algonquin speaking peoples, rocks are marked as
grammatically animate. So it’s a very good question. Grammatically,
rocks are animate. What about these ones? How do you know? What do you do? What difference does
it make that you speak about, and
perhaps to, with, rocks in this animate grammar. So this is a discussion
cited by many, many people and has provoked us to
think about, to rethink, what animism might
be if it is not what Edward Tyler at first–
professor of anthropology at Oxford University–
claimed is the mistaken belief in spirits
or metaphysical realities, the mistaken science. A mistaken attempt to
understand the cosmos that imputed human likeness
and spiritual entities in natural phenomena. Which were, to Edward
Tyler, mostly inanimate. So then I put this
phrase, which is just one of many ways of trying
to [INAUDIBLE] how it might be summed up in a rather
long car bumper sticker, “thoroughgoing
rationality, continuously negotiated through locally
specific cultural etiquette in the larger than human world”. There is a lot in that
that’s of great importance. In some ways, I won’t move
far away from it today or in anything else I do to
do with animism, animists. I want to acknowledge
some of the many people among whom I’ve learned
about animism, who’ve influenced both my
scholarly career and my personal
practice, my life. As somebody who’s
come to appreciate the various ways in which
it is possible to engage with a larger than human world. They include
Anishinaabe children on a reservation in Wisconsin,
aboriginal culture teacher in Alice Springs, Yoruba
diviner and the [INAUDIBLE] with whom he engages. This is a performance
group in Cuba, but I’m clearly inspired
by the practice in life as Santoria devotees. Mayan theater group. Maori in diaspora in London. And just to really make it
clear from the very beginning that these are not people in
boxes that might be labeled as traditional in that
sense of backward-looking, fixed in the past,
in a allegedly pure ancient tradition
that hasn’t evolved. All of these people are
mobile, thoroughly involved in the contemporary world, and
include Christians in the Twin Cities and a community that
is partly Lakota, partly Ojibwe and maintain parts of
both, quote, traditional life, animistic respect for practice,
and a recognizable Catholic Christian practice. So all of these
people and others demonstrate some of
the things that I think can be called animism
with some considerable care. As Charles has said, my– oh, yes. Hang on. Sorry. I just– oh, no. Sorry. Right. So having said I want to
learn from indigenous people, I also wanted to note
that as the title says, we have always been animist. So we have– we’ve
all learned how to be animists because we
are all in relationship all the time, whether you like it
or not, with other species. So to some degree, there
may be a difference between people who clearly
identify with the effort to engage respectfully with
the larger than human community or particular members of it
beyond the human community and the rest of us
who, like it or not, are necessarily
engaged all the time. So there’s a sense
in which animism is every day, is entirely
part of just being a living being within the planet. We’re encouraged to take
probiotic substances into our guts to improve
the community of bacteria that live within us. Just a few of the many millions
of other than human beings who are at home within what
we think of as our bodies. They are, if not the
majority of your cells within this skin
bag of your body, they are at least producing
the majority of the DNA– if you were to be
put into a liquidizer and separated out
into bits of DNA, the bacteria would be
the majority of that DNA. Many of us have great
affections for trees, plants of other kinds. We have these relationships. And my wife is looking
at me because I put up a picture of a cat with whom we
live, a cat who privileges us by allowing us to live. Sometimes share the chair. And so on. And many of you live with
other, other than human, beings. Deliberately so. And you not only name them,
you have conversations of various kinds with them. You learn the appropriate
etiquette, especially with cats. I mean, dogs will
fit in with whatever you think you want
to do, but cats will educate you about how
to behave appropriately. Yeah? Right. We learn what it is to
live in a multi species world in all sorts of ways. So my title is obviously a play
on Bruno Latour’s great bit of writing. Sometimes Bruno Latour writes
not quite so well as this, but I think this is a
nice piece of writing in which he provocatively says,
we have never been modern, but we’ve tried very,
very hard, and we keep trying very, very hard. And so there are lots of
examples in Latour’s work about what he means by this
sort of modern with a capital M. A project of becoming moderns. So although we’ve never
been modern, we’ve tried. Latour, a number of
times, has said, well, I want to try and
think about what we’ve been if we’ve not been modern. And I don’t think he’s
really been entirely convincing about what he
thinks we’ve been if we’ve not be modern, because his
major role in his career is to challenge the moderns
among us, which is often scholars, because we scholars
keep dividing the world, as moderns, between– let’s face it– the
natural sciences and the social sciences. So we are deeply implicated in
dividing the world into humans and everything else. And we treat the
everything else– nature, whatever you want to
call it, the natural world– very differently to the
way that we treat humans. So we use words like society
to speak about humans. And maybe poetically, we might
stretch those boundaries. But we haven’t really
escaped entirely. So Latour uses a number
of examples in which the boundaries
between what you– what one might
think of as nature and what one might think of as
human culture or human products or human life are now
impossible to distinguish. So the ozone layer– the ozone hole, rather– is a natural result
of human activity. It’s a response by the
large and human world to humans, human activity, and
spraying aerosols, and so on. So that was the
hole 10 years ago. The hole is closing. But there are lots
of other examples in which you can’t really
insist that the ozone hole– you want to sit down? That these things
can be separated in any really useful way. But we’ve kept trying. So Latotour, one
of his examples– one of his illustrations
is around this dichotomy between non-humans, nature,
and humans’ culture, and the continuous effort
to purify that boundary, to keep nature different. We can be– we can enjoy nature. We can be romantic about it. But it’s not culture. And to mistake it as culture is
what allegedly primitive people or animists do, to think of
nature as a realm with society, and so on and so on. So I’m going to
come back to that. So instead, in the
work of translation that Latour talks
about in this– We Have Never Been Modern–
he talks about hybridity. So we keep using these
words like hybrid. In the study of religions,
we use words like syncretism. And in the biological
sciences, we worry, perhaps, about
symbiosis as rather strange kind of things, although
in fact, they are the norm. And what he’s explaining is
not syncretism and symbiosis. They are the norm. What we need to explain
is when sometimes stuff gets separated into
boxes where this is what it is to be a
Christian, not to be confused with a Buddhist or an
animist or something else, whereas in reality, people
continuously learn and share from other beings, other
personalities, other cultures. So modernity is– let
me say our usual phrase, which I’m not sure whether
I’ve actually said it before– modernity is a purity
religion, purity system. So like– so many of us
are familiar with Judaism and Kashrut as being
a purity system, keeping things separate,
keeping milk and meat separate. But modernity is an
even more elaborate– if you can imagine that– purity system,
purity of religion. So Latour, in his other,
more recent publications, has thrown out lots of other
ways of trying to think about– not hybridity– that’s
something rather weird– but not society– not trying to extend
society outwards, but talking about
assemblages, gatherings of different kinds of being,
different kinds of person, different kinds of existences,
some of which may be objects. So I can’t live not only
without the bacteria– sorry– I’m talking
about the gut bacteria, but my favorite bacteria
are the ones who prefer to live in our elbow crooks. Right. So that’s why– I wasn’t
going to tell you that, but there are– but I just went like that,
so I better explain it. There are six tribes of bacteria
whose preferred real estate is your elbow crook. So if you want to
engage with nature, don’t mind going
off into the woods. Just– OK, sorry. Right. So there’s these assemblages,
so as well as the bacteria. Clearly, I can’t do this kind
of stuff without a lectern, without a glass of water,
without chairs, and without you coming together, and so on. So there’s different
kinds of assemblage. And we are not divorced from all
the other assemblages of beings with whom we relate,
communities of kin, which include cats, computers,
cars, trees, and so on. I did also mean to say slightly
earlier that one of the ways in which we– all of us, especially you
in this room more so than me because I’m going
back to England– one of the ways in
which you engage with the larger human world
is you celebrate Thanksgiving. So you are having soon an
annual festival in which you are giving thanks to, for. It can be done differently. And you’re engaging with
turkeys and other beings. So there are interesting
things there. Let’s for now leave aside
colonial settlement, and so on. So Thanksgiving is
another one of those ways in which you might think about
we have always been animist. But I’m going to move on. So this is the simple point
of my rambling tonight, which is that the word “nature,”
the idea that there is a realm called nature, a
property called nature, is one of the big things
that keeps dragging us back into being Moderns– in Latore’s sense,
with a capital M– dragging us back into
that purity system. It keeps– it keeps the way we
imagine and the way we speak about nature, the way we
engage with what we think of as nature– puts us back into that
separatist, human separatist movement that is
modernity that makes us think that we are different. So when we see a nature
program, even really good ones like David
Attenborough’s programs, most of the time,
what you get there isn’t the really
current science– sometimes it is, but not always
the really current science of multi-species relationship. Often, it’s here’s a bunch
of animals who are either making noises or
to attract mates or they’re craftily
hunting other animals. So there’s basically–
animals do two things. They either– it’s either
about food or about sex. And you go, OK. So we don’t reduce all of
human culture to those things. We might. But we do– that’s
what nature is. Animals are
instinctive, and so on. So even some of the most recent
bits of David Attenborough fall back into that
narrative of animals do these couple
of things, so you get endless footage of
animals hunting each other, or attracting mates, and
so on, a classic version of what nature has been
throughout modernity. OK. So I was going to talk
about what nature might be. So in one sense, in
the modern sense, nature is a realm
beyond the human. It’s a place that we
go out to and that is– as far as we can,
we want to find a place which is
wilderness and wild, a place that is less
affected by humanity. And those places
are increasingly hard to find,
either because there are very few places
where, at night, there is no light pollution or
other kinds of pollution– there is actually almost
nowhere on this planet now where you, if you
had a Geiger counter, could not discover the effects
of Hiroshima and Chernobyl and Six Mile Island, and so on. The radiation level– background
levels on planet Earth are higher than they were
before humans did things with uranium and other
substances, which are nature, part of the soil, the rock. But now they’re out there. So we’ve changed the planet
in very significant ways. So this is a part of
my struggle to find a illustration for nature,
but I refuse to find– I was going to put up a
picture of a wilderness preserve, but most of
North America, as you know, those wilderness
places are places where humans were
evicted in order to increase the possibility
for nonhuman nature to be preserved. In Britain, people have
this romantic notion that we can go to places like
the Lake District and find– or the Scottish Highlands
and find the wild. And in fact, what you
visit when you go to those places is a landscape degraded
over the last 10,000 years by human interaction, a place
of very limited biodiversity. So this picture is of– in Australia. And I was inspired to find this
picture by Debbie Bird Rose’s work with Aboriginal Australians
where an aboriginal culture teacher told her, when
looking for the wild, that the wild is not a place
where humans do not engage, but a place where
humans engage badly. So the exploitation of the land
for cattle ranching, and so on, has so degraded the
land that most of this– what was a productive
ground is now almost inert, and the soil erosion is
becoming worse and worse. So the wild is not
a positive term for this particular community. So I was trying to find nature,
but what I wanted to do, obviously, because of
what I’ve said so far, is to reach beyond. And I’m seeking for other
ways of thinking about, what is the world if it
isn’t a realm separated between humans and nature
or culture and nature? So these are some examples. Sorry. I’ve obviously gone
to the bacteria there, the elbow bacteria
nicely colored in. So they’re doing
interesting things, living interesting lives. This is the page from
Darwin’s notebook when he first started
thinking about his kinship between humans and
all other beings. And I think there
is a relationship, an evolutionary relationship
between humans and other j. So I’m looking here
for models of kinship. So on the other side, I have
one of Latour’s more recent writings in which he tries
to think about getting away from culture nature,
staying in this world rather than the seven worlds that
we’re exploiting in order to live the way we do
live, consuming so much. And he’s using words like Terra,
as in teran, earthy belonging. So there are a whole host
of words about emplacement of Aboriginal Australians. Rather than talk
about nature, people talk about country, country
meaning a place where a community, a
multi-species community belongs and has mutual
rights and responsibilities for the well-being of the
full range of beings who live in that country,
including especially those who you want to eat and those you
don’t want to be eaten by. So we’re all familiar with the
picture of Earth from Apollo. So the question,
then, is where do we find ourselves in that image. There’s been lots of
debate about that image and how it’s used. And for some people, it’s
a very inspiring image of the small blue-green
planet that, if not unique, is at least rare and remote
from any other planet that we know that
there is still life on. So we need to protect, and
we need to be respectful, and so on and so on. So it’s a great
image for some of us who want to engage
respectfully, but it has also been alleged that it’s a
terrible image, because it implies that we humans
can step outside, view the whole package, and
manage it in some way, whether for human benefit
or for ecological good. There’s a managerial style,
or if you’re of that ilk, you might think of
it as stewardship. But this is a kind
of divine view if your divinity is
the kind of being who lives outside the planet. So it’s a complex image. And so the struggle,
then, to find images that inspire us
to place ourselves back in the land, back in the
country, back in place, back in whatever the world is if
it is not nature culture. So I could, at this point,
summarize some of the people that I think you’ve
had in this room and have read in
your reading group in this and the next
slide, certainly the next several slides,
several people involved. So I’m thinking of work
by Isabelle Stengers on cosmic politics, and
Latour has picked that up. Viveiros de Castro writing
about Amazonian multi-naturalism rather than multiculturalism. So there is a single culture
that all beings perform as they relate with others,
but there are multiple natures given to us by the particular
kind of eyes and bodies that we have that makes us
see the world differently. So jaguars, humans,
peccaries and others all see themselves as beings who
live in homes, eat cooked food, and have kin. But we all see– we see each other differently,
as prey or predator for one example. So Viveiros de Castro came up
with this term multi-naturalism as a challenge to the
Western modern conception that there is a single nature
and multiple cultures which we struggle to
understand and study in the human social sciences. So Latour picked that up. And again, Latour is
very good at picking up interesting phrases. So he then uses
modern naturalism to talk about nature, and so on. Donna Haraway, Staying With
Trouble, Povinelli talking about geoontologies
and the contrast, which is also implicated in
this nature culture thing, between bios, biology,
and geos, geology, allegedly inanimate bedrock
which is just a substance. OK. Minerals get taken up
into bodies and evolve somehow into bios, into biology,
but it’s somehow separate. So there’s a whole lot of stuff
around how does that geos– how do those basic minerals
and the subatomic particles gain consciousness? How do we– how, at some
point, does consciousness arise from what is
allegedly inanimate geos, inanimate material, matter? So new materialists
challenging all those notions. So there’s a whole
rich field here, so whether it’s under
the label of ontology, or the new materialism, and
a host of other phrases. They all relate in various
ways to animistic notions. Other people– Marilynne
Strathern, many years ago, built on the term dividuals. So if one of the things that
modernity encourages us to do, it is to individualize and to
individuate, the whole Jungian practice around individuating,
and so on, Melanesians encourage dividuation. So what the encouragement there
is to become better relations. So this is the point where
I quote Monty Python. So in that brilliant moment in
Monty Python’s Life of Brian– some of you are far too young. Some of you will remember
that Brian, the not prophet, comes out on the balcony and
tells them all to go away. You don’t need a leader. You don’t need a prophet. You’re all individuals. Come on. Somebody has seen the film? [INAUDIBLE] Thank you. Sorry. I should’ve said there
can be some audience participation here. So the opposite to that would
be you’re not individuals. We are all dividuals. And then somebody can
go, well, I’m not, or I am an individual,
and [INAUDIBLE].. So there’s this tension. And again, those are pure forms,
dividuals and individuals, because actually, we are– we moderns are also encouraged
to be good relations, to be respectful as
we drive down the road or walk down the pavement. We’re expected to
behave appropriately, so we are expected to be good
relations, to talk politely with our close kin, and so on. So the pure forms are
not to be separated out, like we don’t do it and
they don’t do individualism. Because clearly, Melanesians
do do individualized practice. So Marilyn Strathern–
very, very interesting, very important– feed
into this whole debate. The late, great Val Plumwood
writing about ecofeminism, the wonderful article
“Being Prey” in which, having been attacked by a
crocodile because she was in the wrong place at the
wrong time, behaving badly, the crocodile policed
[INAUDIBLE] behavior– but also tried to
benefit itself, because crocodiles like eating
humans, as she discovered. She survived to write
a brilliant article and then go on to write some
brilliant books under the label of ecofeminism, so a
significant effort to find different ways to engage with
the larger-than-human world. OK. I think I’ve got to– yes, I should move on quickly. So I just had
[INAUDIBLE] onscreen. Debbie Bird Rose talked
about the wild, also recently deceased. Karen Barad, agential realism,
an interesting, provocative phrase to think about
subatomic particles and other– other conscious material beings
and the way that the world seems to work. [INAUDIBLE] and colleagues
were writing very recently about the arts of living
on a damaged planet, finding new ways to
engage, to insist that we need to
think differently about the multiple species with
whom and among whom we live and who live within us. So that brings me to Lynn
Margulis, who coined the phrase symbiogenesis. So evolution is
not pushed forward by the competition of
one against another, but by the working together
of multiple species. So we are only what we
are because bacteria and other beings make us who
we are– cats too, of course. So all these people,
and many others, feed into these interesting
struggles to think differently about nature culture, about
modernity, modernism, animism, and all the other possibilities. But we could go much, much
further back in this struggle. So here’s a picture of Gilgamesh
and Enkidu fighting against [INAUDIBLE],, ancient Akkadian
and even earlier Sumerian– not heroes, perhaps. So for those of not familiar,
Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is a kind of antihero character
who becomes a hero later on. But at this moment, he decides,
with his best buddy, Enkidu, to go off and chop
down the cedar forest, the realm
of the deities, and to bring back the hidden
the hidden wisdom, the god’s wisdom, which was not supposed
to be available to humans. You may recognize bits of
the story from elsewhere. So they go, and they
slaughter the guardian. And Enkidu tries to persuade
Gilgamesh not to do this. And so in this text of– what, 6,000 years
ago or longer– we already see, and
explicitly in the texts, in the conversation between
Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a challenge between the
objectifying extractivism. Let’s take back this
wood and build doors for the temples and
palaces and beds, and so on, against
respectful restraint that others in the
text implies we might think differently about. So the sources that I want
to think with and through are ancient as well
as contemporary. They include people
that you’ve– that I’ve mentioned before, so
these kids from the reservation learning about Ojibwe
grammar, [? Murray ?] Gross writing about being
silent in the forest, the realm of the others. So when Anishinaabe kids are
taken off into the forest to do their first maple
syrup, sugar bush gathering, they’re told to be
quiet because this is their realm, the realm of
the larger-than-human community. And we’re just visiting, and
we need to be respectful. And the kids go on and
make a lot of noise, but next year, they
learn, and they adapt, and they get the
etiquette in the end, so learning silence,
as well as learning to speak with a part
of standard education, educative systems among
indigenous people. Winona LaDuke wrote this
wonderful book, All Our Relations, picking out that
Lakota phrase from sweat lodge ritual practice. But I don’t think
I can really get any better than Linda
Hogan, Chickasaw writer, in her
first chapter in– I edited– her book,
Contemporary Animism. Her chapter is called
“We Call it Tradition.” So she, among others, said why
do we need [INAUDIBLE] animism? We just call it tradition. It’s what we do. We live with a
multi-species community. We have ways of
respect for the living. Why do you need to make
it more difficult with these weird isms, and so on? So we had a great conversation. And I recommend, if you do go
and get this book or whatever, read Linda Hogan first. Read the last chapter
by Ronald Grimes last. I’ll come back to Ronald
Grimes a bit later. They’re the front
and back of the book. Everything in
between is examples of other ways of doing things. But there are their
fantastic chapters. So I don’t really think I
can say much better than– OK– Latour has picked up a
lot of secondhand knowledge from indigenous people, from
Viveiros de Castro and others, from [INAUDIBLE] and others,
the argument between Viveiros de Castro and [INAUDIBLE]. And he’s kind of
presented it provocatively to the rest of us,
so important writer. But we can go straight to the
sources, published authors like– indigenous authors like Linda
Hogan and many, many others. Harry Garuba, Nigerian
poet, professor of English in Cape Town,
says if you don’t understand animist realism, you will
not understand anything about Africa, so African
animist realist novels. So there are plenty of
wonderful presentations in those people’s writing. So we can really
do no better than that in thinking about
the cosmopolitics that might arise from these
efforts to think differently about the way we might live. So you also had Robin
[INAUDIBLE] and, I think, Kyle Whyte. You must get Kyle Whyte. Right. So botanist ecologists whose
very scholarly academic work– tenured professors– are
engaging respectfully, powerfully with their
own indigenous origins. Both of them are
Pottawatomie scholars. So Kyle Whyte, for example,
says if you want to know– if you want to find resources
for dealing with climate disaster, mass extinction,
and so on, then we’ve already been through it. We were shipped from the
forests and lake lands of the Canadian-US Midwestern
border, Pottawatomie lands, to Oklahoma, an arid zone where
we knew none of the plants– where it didn’t rain as
much, and so on and so on. We’ve already been
through climate change. Those of us that survived– some of us have gone back, some
of us are still in Oklahoma– have resources for
thinking through. So Kyle Whyte, a
lot of his practice is to go to
reservation communities around, reserve
communities, and help people to think through
what resources there are in their traditional
cultures and everyday lives to carry on dealing with the
continuing accelerating mass extinction and climate disaster
that we are now implicated in. But there are others,
quote, ordinary people. So this is a film– this is a picture, rather– of mountains and river in
[INAUDIBLE] Saami territory in Arctic Norway. So this is the
grounds of a festival called Riddu Riddu held
every July in Saami land near a field. And it brings together a lot
of indigenous performers, just a wonderful event. And I’ve had the privilege of
going there for several years. So one year, I
was taking a break from the hard work of listening
to indigenous rock bands and folk groups,
[INAUDIBLE] and so on. How do I do this? Well, I was standing by
this river, and I thought, it’s higher than it’s
been on previous visits. And this local guy said
to me, spontaneously, this is very bad. The salmon and the trout
are out in the field, not very far away from here. They want to come upstream, but
because the ice is melting off the mountains much faster
than it should do– more than it should do– the river is higher and
colder than it should be. And the fish cannot
get into the river. If they don’t get into the
river, they won’t spawn. They’ll be dead. And the salmon in particular,
they will not come back to this river maybe ever, or
until a salmon accidentally swims up the wrong
stream, because salmon go back to their
spawning ground. So this guy was not talking
about Saami livelihood, although he could have
done, because he’s a coastal Saami who do
rely on fishing, and so on. He was talking
about what we have done to a
multi-species community and how we desperately
need to do something to address this problem. So these are quite
ordinary people, not only botanists and scholars of
different kinds of science. And we know, then,
there are people out marching on the streets in
the Extinction Rebellion. There’s a great
sense of urgency. There are people
creating morning rituals from the species
we’ve already lost. And this is
precisely the context of we’ve never be modern, but we
keep trying, and nature keeps– nature keeps bringing
us back into it because we keep
thinking it’s elsewhere. The extinctions– the
message the media keep giving, in Britain
at least, is we must do something about
this, because otherwise, it’s going to affect our
businesses, our homes. Our cities will go
underwater, and so on, as if the only important
thing about climate change was whether New York and
London will be underwater soon and humans will be affected. So the mass extinction is
already massively impacting other species. So these kind of efforts
are of great significance. But– OK, so I’m a
scholar of religion. I’m interested in religion,
as many of you are. So there are– I’m kind of interested– and
I’ll do this very quickly– in both definitions
and approaches, the scholarly
approaches that we have to these issues of
what religion might be in this world
that is not divided between nature and culture. Because very often, we get
presented with a notion of religion which is like face. Our Open University
Marketing department, where we were
creating a new course, offered this as an
image of religion. OK? This image, right? And this image, entertainingly,
is called “Man and his God.” So I hang out with pagans
and indigenous people, so my immediate, naughty
response was, well, is he sitting on his
god, or is it a sky god? And I did it without
really thinking through it. Then I realized what
I meant to think of is this is Rudolf Otto in
the numerous experiences. Man, in his solitude, encounters
the majesty of god, is humbled, crushed by that experience. That’s how often we
still think of as it’s an individual human exercise. So I go back to the Twin Cities
Catholic Church, [? Lakota ?] Ojibwe Catholic Church,
in which religion isn’t just something humans
do between themselves and their deity,
even Christian deity. Religion is something
that engages buffalo, tobacco, water from
the Ojibwe tradition [INAUDIBLE] carry water bottles. So I’m kind of– I wanted to find,
where is religion? What would religion mean if
it was arising explicitly in a multi-species
relational world? If animism– if we accepted this
kind of new animistic approach, what would we– how would we think
about religion? So one of the ways in which I– and I put the cover
of my [INAUDIBLE] book in because that’s what I try
and do in that book, is I take– I reverse the practice of taking
a Protestant Christian early modern definition of
religion, belief in God that’s been exported. So the Sri Lankan Buddhists
set up the Young Men’s Buddhist Association with a nice
[INAUDIBLE] statement, what Buddhists believe. So we find 10 things
that Buddhists believe in the 19th century. So we’ve exported that
notion of religion. And I want to turn
the tables and say, OK. let’s find definitions
of religion from elsewhere, come back and look again at
what we are familiar with, even among the churches and mosques
and synagogues and elsewhere. So another sadly missed scholar,
[INAUDIBLE],, a Maori scholar, many years ago wrote a wonderful
article called “Maori Religion” in which he has this phrase that
I quote many times, which is, “the purpose of religious
activity among my people is doing violence
with impunity,” so “the purpose of religious
activity among my people is doing violence
with impunity.” Because almost every–
whatever you want to call it, culture, every human
community is told not to kill. Full stop, absolute. Don’t kill, except you’re
allowed to kill carrots, cows, or capitalists. I’m just looking for a– sorry. That was just me [INAUDIBLE]. But you have to kill,
because you’re also told things like you’ve
got to feed your guests. You’ve got to
shelter your guests. So you’ve got to go into the
forest and chop down a tree. So this is a totara tree, one
of the largest trees native to [INAUDIBLE], New Zealand. But this tree is also– and I’m afraid some of you
who were there last night when I taught a bit more of
this story are like, I’m not going to
do it all tonight. So you need to go
and read around about Maori cosmology, Maori
origin stories, Maori evolution stories. So the totara is
also Tane-mahuta, the god of the forest who is the
being, the deity who separates Mother Earth and Father Sky. So without Tony
doing what he does– separating sky from Earth– there would be no space
between the loving couple and their children. Tane-mahuta, among others,
was talking about space, creating the space. So when this tree
is cut down, it’s used to make meeting houses
[INAUDIBLE] like this one. She is [INAUDIBLE],, who
now lives in Guildford, south of London. So interesting
story in that too. And Maori diaspora
community do ritual there. So when the [INAUDIBLE] is
cut down and the totara is cut down, he is then taken in
and made, with great respect, into a meeting house in which
the roof is above the floor– good arrangement– in
which things can happen, negotiations can take place. So the ritual is the bit you do. The religion is the bit you
do when you go to the forest and you approach these beings,
these powerful, creative, cosmologically absolutely
important persons. And you say, sorry,
please, thanks. And you ritualize it because
they don’t necessarily speak [INAUDIBLE] Maori
or English or whatever. So rituals are the way
in which you engage across species boundaries. So that’s a brief version
of [INAUDIBLE] rich phrase [INAUDIBLE] violence
with impunity. OK. But you might also think
about Thanksgiving rituals, not so much the
19th-century evolved American-Canadian
version of Thanksgiving so much as the Iroquois
[INAUDIBLE] version of Thanksgiving in which
thanks are expressed in a thoroughly
ritualized negotiation with the rest of the world. So there are rich
resources for being provoked to think differently
about our relationships. So what it comes
down to, then, is about celebrating our relations
with multi-species beings, not all of whom are nice. So I didn’t put up a
picture with a crocodile, but it’s a rather
nice picture of a bird singing on a cold morning. But still, there are
these provocations. If we think differently about
the world, not as a place where humans do culture and
the rest of nature is just about
breeding and eating, but a place where
beings communicate about all kinds of issues,
all kinds of issues– and the encouragement, then, is
to celebrate those in the place where you find yourself
and to find the right way to engage with those beings. So last image– one way in which
that happens with [INAUDIBLE] is yoiking. So a yoik is a
particular style of chant that is gifted from the
singer to the other. So it could be sung to the
field, to the mountain, to another human, to an
elder, to the salmon, to all kinds of beings. And when the person makes the
yoik about the other person– mountain, river,
whatever, whoever– the yoik not only sums them
up, but becomes their property. So it ceases to be my
intellectual property if I was the yoiker. It becomes the intellectual
property of the forest, the human, the salmon, whatever. So that brings me back
to that last chapter in the Handbook of
Contemporary Animism, which is Ron Grimes, ritual
studies scholar, riffing off a phrase written
by the poet Gary Snyder which is performance is currency in
the deep world’s gift economy. So in the deep world, which
we have been pleased to call nature culture separated
out, but that’s– find different ways of
speaking about it, this world that we live in with all its
local countries and places of belonging. What we do as humans to engage– to catch the attention
of other beings, other species, to get involved
is some sort of performance, however improvised it might
be, however traditional it might be, and so on. So there’s that flow. And importantly,
that’s the same thing that the eagles are doing,
that the bears are doing, the rocks are doing,
the field is doing. They’re also performing
to engage other species. So these are all
ways in which I want to present to you as ways
of thinking differently about a world, until now,
we thought of as separated between culture and nature. We’ve been forced back. Despite the fact
that we’ve always been animists to one
degree or another, we’ve also been encouraged
back into the modernist world. We put all this effort into
dividing human science, natural science,
and so on and so on, that doing rituals in
this larger community might have interesting
results with some urgency because of the nature
of the time we live in. Thank you very
much for listening. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

 

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