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Saturday, February 27 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
Complicating Kinship in the Study of Religion & Nature

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(LIVE conversation with presenters. Please watch session beforehand.)

Although the term Animism has problematic roots in the study of religion, it is now widely use by religionists and scholars alike to refer to “perceptions that natural entities, forces, and nonhuman life-forms have one or more of the following: a soul or vital lifeforce or spirit, personhood (an affective life and personal intentions), and consciousness, often but not always including special spiritual intelligence or powers. . . Animism generally enjoins respect if not reverence for and veneration of such intelligences and forces and promotes a felt kinship with them.” These kinship feelings “are often accompanied by ethical mores specifying the sorts of relationships that human beings should have, or avoid having, with nature’s diverse forces and beings” (Taylor, Dark Green Religion, 15).

While there has been increasing scholarly attention to such perceptions and their diverse forms, and from a growing number of disciplines, there is much left to critically examine and discuss. The purpose of this session is to show that such perceptions and related practices are far more common and diverse than is usually recognized while also raising new questions and ethical conundrums that arise both from such phenomena, scholarly analyses of them, and various lacunae in the study of them. The titles and abstracts for the presentations that follow this overview illuminate some of the phenomena to be examined and the ethical claims to be advanced and discussed. It would be tautologically to repeat them here. But they do reveal the richness of the proposed session.

Respondent: Jace Weaver

Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, “Curanderos Kinship with Sentient Ancestor Mountains in Northern Peru: Combining the Senses with Local Science”

Curanderos or healers in La Libertad, Northern Peru recognize apus as ancestor mountains who have human faces and have the capacity to sense and feel. These feelings of kinship with mountains are linked to a worldview whereby humans belong to the earth and their destinies are inextricably linked to the actions of the earth. In some instances apu control the access to water, life, health, and fertility to ameliorate the destruction of the Earth’s biodiversity in the face of mining expansion. In other instances, apu acquire punish humans’ greed and the indiscriminate destruction of the earth and human health through mining with floods, mudslides, illnesses, and death. Curanderos read the actions of apu ancestors both through their senses and local science. They meld the agency of apus expressed through floods, mudslides, tsunamis, dreams, and visions with scientific discourses and their own observations of rising temperatures and changes in the movements of currents, winds, and animals and in the blooming patterns of plants. As poor mestizos have seen the connections between actions of apus, curanderos’ biometric readings, and environmental science, they have also understood the consequences of overexploitation simultaneously in environmental, moral, and social terms.

Kyle Powys Whyte, “Kinship and Consent”

Theories of kinship are moving in the direction of furnishing greater detail on the operation of relationships of responsibility. One particular moral quality that I would argue is part of kinship is consent. Consent can actually be tied to what are often understood as spiritual aspects of kinship, especially animacy. The presentation will argue that consent is connected to animacy, self-determination, and freedom, as these moral concepts are discussed in different kinship theories. Consent also has systematic relationships with other kinship qualities of responsibility, including reciprocity and trust. The presentation engages Anishinaabe intellectual traditions, in dialogue with Indigenous intellectual traditions from other peoples and cultures.

Robin Wright, “Covid 19 and the Yoopinai: Predatory Relations with Enemy Spirits”

In Northwestern Amazonia, relations of humans to the spirit worlds are understood in two ways – spirits who are generous and provide humans with what they need, and the Yoopinai spirits who predate on humans and transform them. With the outbreak of COVID19, the ancient wars with the latter, as remembered in creation stories, have now re-emerged. Spirit attacks in the cities have become prominent in the form of suicide and deaths from COVID19. How the pandemic transformed relations of humans with the Yoopinai spirits is the focus of my contribution. I will broaden my discussion to include other indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Amazon and their struggles to make sense of the pandemic.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker, “Beyond Leopold: Toward a Transformational Land Ethic”

Aldo Leopold is perhaps best known for his book A Sand County Almanac and the “Land Ethic” chapter in particular. While Leopold articulated a land ethic we might identify as relational (i.e., between the human and non-human world), he was silent on the ethics of human-to-human relations within the particular context of the United States, a country founded on the eradication of one group of humans (Indigenous peoples) for the benefit of other humans (settlers). Taking a cue from the celebrated Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday who articulated a different kind of “American land ethic,” this paper argues that an American relational land ethic that favors nonhuman life while being silent on Indigenous eradication is problematic at best, and at worst perpetuates the eliminative impulse of U.S. settler colonialism. I make the case instead that a land ethic must reckon with this history of genocide and dispossession if it is to be just. It does so by acknowledging unearned settler privilege accumulated through these violent processes, the nationhood of Native peoples, as well as drawing from Indigenous epistemological frameworks accumulated through millennia of land tenure.

Sarah McFarland Taylor, "'God’s Original Prescription for Social Distancing': A Media Analysis of Christian Forest Therapy’s Knotty Adaptations of Japanese Shinrin-Yoku to the North American Cultural Context"

In Your Guide to Forest Bathing (2017), Amos Clifford emphasizes that “forest therapy helps us remember our place in a kin-centric network of relationships with all beings.” Clifford, U.S. based Buddhist and prominent forest guide also contends that “forest bathing” (the anglicized term for the Japanese practice of “Shinrin-Yoku” or mindful forest immersion), provides a critical foundation for citizens’ ecological awareness and forest activism. By contrast, “Christian Forest Therapy” (CFT), a nascent movement in the U.S. that modifies Shinrin-Yoku for “biblical Christians,” struggles to demarcate between CFT and kin-centric “nature worship.” Forests provide ideal locations to communicate with God and appreciate God’s creation but with CFT the relationship is one less of kin-centrism and more of godly authority. Conservation advocacy is also less present, at most, expressed in CFT as vague references to “stewardship.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, proponents cast CFT in terms of human/divine communication, identifying forests as “God’s original prescription for social distancing,” trees as “God’s media,” and the forest as a “spiritual cinema of strength.” Drawing on media theorist Limor Shifman’s work on memes in digital culture, this multimedia presentation argues that CFT media constitute a negotiated “secondary layer of language,” tactically remaking and remarketing Shinrin-Yoku within a resonant Christian rhetoric.

Lisa Maria Madera, “The Empathy of Birds: Lessons from Pacha Mama in the Face of Despair”

In 2008, Ecuador’s congress passed a new constitution encompassing a multi-cultural, plurinational state reflecting Andean and Amazonian cosmological connections to the Earth. As the first constitution in the world to establish and prote

avatar for Jace Weaver

Jace Weaver

Director of the INAS, Franklin Professor of Native American Studies and Religion, and Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Georgia

avatar for Bron Taylor

Bron Taylor

Professor of Religion, Nature and Environmental Ethics, University of Florida
avatar for Gretel Van Wieren

Gretel Van Wieren

Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Michigan State University
avatar for Lisa María Madera

Lisa María Madera

Independent Scholar
avatar for Sarah McFarland Taylor

Sarah McFarland Taylor

Associate Professor, Program in Environmental Policy and Culture, Northwestern University
avatar for Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Dina Gilio-Whitaker

American Indian Studies Lecturer, California State University San Marcos
I am a Native American studies scholar and writer who lives in a Southern California beach town and surfs. You can talk to me about anything relating to indigenous cultures/politics and surfing. I co-authored a book titled "'All the Real Indians Died Off' and 20 Other Myths about... Read More →
avatar for Robin Wright

Robin Wright

Associate Professor of Religion and Anthropology, University of Florida
avatar for Kyle Powys Whyte

Kyle Powys Whyte

George Willis Pack Professor of Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
avatar for Ana Mariella Bacigalupo

Ana Mariella Bacigalupo

Marta Sutton Weeks Faculty Fellow, Stanford University

Saturday February 27, 2021 11:00am - 12:30pm MST
Online (Live)