Graham Harvey, professor of religious studies at The Open University (UK), discusses animism and how our relations are damaged by ongoing efforts to separate (human) culture from ‘nature’ and humans from other species. Engaging with Indigenous knowledges, Harvey seeks to replace ‘nature’ with more respectful relationships with the world.
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, Ojibwa, 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 animate 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 imagine 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 orishas 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?
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 then, well, hang on. 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 her 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 a few more 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.
Anna Tsing and her 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 Humbaba, 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, Harry 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 this word 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 they are 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 Descola and others, the argument between Viveiros de Castro and Descola. 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 Wall Kimmerer 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 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, yoikas 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. We didn't 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 Food, Sex, and Strangers 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 credal 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, TP Tawhai, 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 trying to get your attention.
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 Otago, 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 Tane 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 like this one. She is Hinami, who now lives in Guildford, south of London. So interesting story in that too. And Maori diaspora community do ritual there.
So when the Tane-mahuta 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 Tere or Maori or English or whatever. So rituals are the way in which you engage across species boundaries. So that's a brief version of Tawhai's rich phrase doing 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 Haudenosaunee 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 the Saami 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.