More-than-human Religion

Publicity picture for Dr. Govindrajan's lecture
Site of a Masan Puja, Uttarakhand, India. Courtesy of Radhika Govindrajan.

Do forests think? Are animals persons? Should museum objects be treated as subjects? Questions like these are inspiring conversations around Indigeneity, ecology, and material culture in the humanities. Such inquiries seek to reframe life in the Anthropocene (i.e., the period in the planet’s history when human activity has become the dominant influence on the ecosystem) by recognizing the agency of nonhuman actors, environments, and objects, and by acknowledging the human responsibility to engage ethically with them. The interdisciplinary study of religion offers a rich ground to advance inquiries around more-than-human worlds.

More-than-human Religion is a collaborative project based at Florida State University around these areas of inquiry. The goal is to foster conversation through the interdisciplinary study of religion between Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and theorizing, on the one hand, with the “material turn” in Anglo-American theory and method on the other hand. Our organizing questions include: What are the resources in Indigenous traditions for understanding materiality and human relationships with nonhuman worlds? How do religious ways of thinking and knowing influence broader social, political, and environmental spheres?

Our project draws inspiration from emergent attempts in other disciplines to think these various areas of inquiry together, while grounding our questions in religious studies. We posit that the study of religion offers a uniquely interdisciplinary space for such conversations. For one thing, western religions and the western study of religions, in ways coterminous with conquest and colonialism, have played instrumental roles in the production of ideas of negative or nonmodern materialities through concepts like “idolatry,” “the fetish,” and “mana.” In their earliest applications, these concepts silenced alternate theorizations of materiality as self-evidently wrong, misguided, or not appropriately “secular” enough for scientific inquiry into religions. Current scholarship on religion, we posit, needs to rethink and decolonize these moves of the field’s past.

The project is organized by Elizabeth Cecil and Sonia Hazard. We are colleagues in the FSU Department of Religion and represent different areas within the study of religion. Cecil focuses on Hindu traditions, Indigenous ecologies, and visual and material culture in South and Southeast Asia. Hazard works on the history of Christianity, media studies and the history of the book, new materialisms, and Cherokee traditions in the early United States. The project is supported by our two FSU graduate student fellows, Amee Parikh and Talia Burnside.

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Funding for this project was provided partly through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.