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A Non-secular Anthropocene: Spirits, Specters and Other Nonhumans in a Time of Environmental Change. June 8-10, 2017.

Set in Koncertkirken, a Protestant-church-turned-concert-venue at the heart of Copenhagen, the conference explores the potential of nonsecular theory and analysis of the Anthropocene 


What place do spirits, gods, ghouls, and ghosts occupy in the Anthropocene? What spirit ecologies haunt the naturecultures of anthropogenic environmental crisis at the limits of capitalist expansion? In a thawing Siberia, Eveny herders respect reindeer for their magical ability to fly. In a deforested Amazonia, Yanomami Indians use the mind-altering properties of the calcium tree to achieve shamanistic union with their ancestors.  And the basic creed of the Catholic Church, still the largest church in a secular world, is that wheat bread and wine change into the flesh and blood of Christ during the Eucharistic rite.  The nonhuman landscape of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and rocks has always been deeply entangled with that of religion, spirits and magic in the organization of human societies. Whereas the project of Enlightenment modernity was premised on an attempt to separate this entangled world into the distinct realms of “nature”, “religion” and “politics”, the suggestion that the world has entered the Anthropocene – a time of accelerated and human-induced environmental change – has arguably begun to destabilize these divisions by highlighting the political ecology of nature.  “Nature” and its future, it now seems apparent, are intensely political and politically contingent.  The question is: what does this mean for the spaces that used to be called “religion” or “magic”? To what extent have eschatology and environmental change come to map the same thing in the Anthropocene? If so, how might anthropology retool itself to study “the supernatural” in a world after nature or to better understand immortality in an age of extinction?

 This conference explores the magical ecology of nonhumans as a way of answering these questions. Flying reindeer, ancestor plants, and transubstantiated grain entangle magic and biology, theology and ecology, in equal measure. Ethnographies of nonhumans that are magical as much as they are biological, geological, political or technological are particularly relevant for the Anthropocene, an era eminently shaped by bio-geo-techno-magical entanglements. As such, attention to the magical ecologies of nonhumans will help us stake out the study of a non-secular Anthropocene: an approach to environmental crisis that begins with the eco-theologies of co-species life to ask questions about the links between political ecology and political theology. The conference suggests the need for an anthropological critique of the secularist tendencies in much Anthropocene scholarship. It diagnoses the hidden theologies of dominant Anthropocene narratives in which the future takes the form of apocalypse, eco-topia or denouement. And it explores what lies beyond these narratives by recuperating anthropology’s legacy of studying the worlds of the otherwise. 

 See all abstracts here

Videos from the conference