12/11/2014 Re-imagining the other-than-human: pagan engagement with indigenous animism

Anna Fisk
(Glasgow School of Art)

Part of: Literature, Theology and the Arts Research Seminars. Upper Seminar Room, Wed 5.00 p.m.

From Wordsworth to The Secret Garden through to Annie Dillard, the theological theme of humankind's relation to the natural world has been significant in the literature of modernity. As with the literary discourse of ecoliterature, the contemporary religion of Paganism--itself in part a product of the Romantic literary tradition--seeks human reconnection with nature, in response to the alienation brought about by industrialism and the dualism of western traditions of thought. The ways in which Paganism reimagines human relations with the nonhuman world, especially that understood as 'nature', has been considered in terms of the ethnographic concept of animism. Originally a colonial definition--one that regarded as the 'primitive basis of religion' those indigenous worldviews that incorporate the subjectivity of nonhumans--recent anthropological and theoretical accounts have presented a new understanding of animism as a profoundly relational worldview in which 'the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human' (Harvey 2005). The extension of social structures and relationality to the nonhuman environment is a common element of otherwise diverse worldviews of indigenous cultures around the world. Engagement with indigenous animist traditions in contemporary Paganism (and related anthropological and philosophical discourses) is regarded as a positive move in the face of global environmental crisis. However, such engagement runs of the risk of western imperialism in relating to indigenous cultural traditions, and this is the chief concern of this paper.

First published: 17 October 2014