Natalie Avalos (CU Boulder)
A Native Teleology: Stewardship and the Sovereignty of Plant Medicines”

Native American religious traditions are based on interdependent and equitable relationships to land and spiritual power. Native peoples describe their lifeworlds as dynamic metaphysical fields that are alive and sentient—all phenomena in it, such as plants and animals, are understood to be a distinct expression of life force, or spirit, and thus have personhood. Plant persons, particularly those used in ceremonial contexts, must be treated with special care as they, in turn, bestow the instructions for living that humans need to survive. In an Indigenous context, these more than human persons are the true carriers of wisdom, enlightened mind, if you will. They generously share their knowledge about the nature of reality with humans who have implored the spirit world to guide them. Traditionally, this wisdom was offered on a need-to-know basis to human persons through ceremonial contexts but also through prayer and meditative inquiry. Here, humanness is not a given; it is earned, developed over time by navigating the path of life with integrity and a deep sense of respect for the spirit world, which is the domain of the more than human. In this sense, we must understand plant medicines as persons, plant persons, who have consciousness, agency, and are deserving of respect.

Rebecca J. Mendoza (Harvard)
“Resisting Objectification: Relational Possibilities Among More-than-human Materials in the Museum”

This paper thinks from and with an assemblage of materials who have been contained in the Harvard Peabody Museum for over a century. Specifically, dredged from a sacred cenote in Chichén Itzá, México, thousands of offerings are preserved by arsenic, protected by plastic bags, stored in metal cabinets and dark drawers. Precolonial, early colonial period, and ethnohistoric Mesoamerican sources reveal that these are not simply inert items but rather are powerful figures in relational networks of humans and more-than-humans. If these materials, like human and animal bodies, are imbued with vital energies or life forces what does it mean that the museum treats them as inanimate objects? How is this part of, or parallel to discussions of human ancestral remains and ethical stewardship? While rematriation and reburial are the goal for many Indigenous communities and Native Nations, the reality of colonial extraction ensures that thousands of materials will remain in collections for the foreseeable future. In these archaeological storage spaces, we find ourselves in entanglements of energetic forces, encountering assemblages of ancestors in exile from their homelands, waterways, and descendants. The Chichén Itzá collection is one of many cases which makes clear the existential crisis of ruptured relations and provides an opportunity for interrogating ontological assumptions and imagining alternative forms of relating in liminal spaces. While the museum itself is violent to Indigenous ways of being and knowing, Indigenous human and more-than-human beings are actively transgressing the boundaries of anthropology and transforming carceral and sterile museum spaces into sites of repairing relationships with kin called artifacts.

James Waters (Villanova) 
“Vignettes of Lakota Ecology: Historical, Ethical, and Contemporary Perspectives on More-than-Human Persons”

This presentation recounts ethnographic data collected at Standing Rock Reservation during the fall of 2022. These interviews are part of a larger project that seeks to recount how Native American revitalization movements from the 18th century onward shaped and changed Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental ethical concerns.

The leaders of these Pan-Indian movements often adopted religious-settler concepts (Christian ones typically) to address new challenges introduced by white-settlerism. These additions and amendments to Indigenous religious traditions often transformed environmental practices and altered their moral concern for nonhuman persons—for better or worse. While continuing to integrate settler-religious ideas and language, modern iterations of these Pan-Indian movements, starting in the second half of the 20th century, evolved to address Native and white audiences. Consequently, and in contrast, these modern movements expanded settler understandings of one’s ethical obligation to nonhuman persons.

These discussions from 2022 offer at least a few instances of how these movements may continue to affect the scope of environmental concern for Native communities. In each conversation with these Lakota individuals, I asked them to describe how their complementary, antagonistic, or indifferent relationships toward Christian groups in their area may or may not influence their environmental outlook. And how, in their view, Lakota ideas and practices regarding nonhuman persons should or should not affect the ecological ethics of non-Indigenous Americans more broadly.

Paul Christopher Johnson (Michigan)
“‘My Mutilated Gods’: Rodin and the Modes of Statuary Life”

All the misshapen gods: Hephaestus the hobbled, Dionysus on broken leg. One-eyed Odin, one-armed Tyr. And others deformed by time or vandals or use. Rodin loved his collection of wounded figurines of the old deities for their very imperfection. “My mutilated gods,” he called these curios with missing heads and hands, and he tried to sculpt that way: “The Man with the Broken Nose” with a crater blown through the back of the skull (1865). John the Baptist without head or arms, remade as “Walking Man” (1899). “The Tragic Muse” (1890), no arms. “Cybele” (1889), beheaded. Rodin wanted the forms to have the impact of archaeological ruins and stone or clay under duress, twisted with torque, or barely emergent from the earth. The most familiar of these is “The Thinker.” Rilke described him “heavy with visions…the whole body become a skull,” but the tensed back and grotesque feet impose themselves just as forcefully, the toes digging into the rock as though desperately clinging to the precarious perch. The cast at the Cleveland Museum of Art pulses unlike any other version of the Thinker, no longer pondering from above. Damaged by a 1970 blast, this damaged demigod was left in that state–wrenched apart, its base a jagged plume. The ripped legs and hollowed torso open to a distinct kind of agency, but of what?

Sonia Hazard (FSU Religion)
“Theory From Religion: Living in Joseph Smith’s World” 

Religious studies has taken a turn toward “indigenous theory” or “emic theory,” premised on the idea that religions may furnish not only data but theory for the scholar of religion. This paper explores this turn in regard to the epistemological and methodological questions raised by an earlier project where I argued that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, encountered real plates: when Smith said he found “gold plates” that became the basis of the Book of Mormon, he was telling the truth. These were printing plates commonly used for industrial printing in the nineteenth-century United States. As more-than-human agents, the material plates changed Smith’s course and shaped the growth of Mormonism. Beginning with the observation that the project asked what David Graeber called an “illegal question,” I posit that the case of the plates demonstrates how approaching religion as theory can only be meaningful if it is first presumed that we scholars and religious subjects alike — live in one shared world, and that what unites us ontologically is more adhesive and coherent than what may divide us culturally. Theory is theory if it has the power to reveal something of the truth of how the common world works, unsettling the world of the scholar and her common sense. In this case, Mormon theory points to the more-than-human vitalities at work in our shared world, which were more evident to Smith and early Saints than they were to many scholars of religion today. 

Nathanael Stein (FSU Philosophy) 
“Divinities and Disenchantment: Explaining the Natural World in Ancient Greek Philosophy”

One contrast often drawn between ancient and modern thinkers turns on the notion of “disenchantment”: in modern times, especially since the rise of modern science, a certain kind of attitude about the natural world and our relationship to it becomes, allegedly, impossible. Somehow or other, ancient thinkers are supposed to be innocent, for good or ill, of certain conceptions that are all but inevitable for “we moderns.” The distinction can be framed in various ways and for different purposes. But this view is in tension with another common notion: that early Greek philosophy begins with setting aside supernatural explanations of the natural world, which already sounds like disenchantment of a sort. This seems to entail that later ancient philosophers such Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics are already “disenchanted,” despite having the kind of enchanted view that didn’t get set aside until two thousand years later. It is also in tension with the sheer variety of views about nature that we find during this period. Here I consider different ways of making the distinction more precise, and the ways in which it does or does not capture differences between ancient and modern understandings of the natural world and our relationship to us.

Kristin L. Dowell (Cristín Ní Dhúill) (FSU Art History)
Fite Fuaite (Interwoven): Relationality within Irish Language and Art”

An ancient language, a portal, a refuge, a shapeshifter, the Irish language has been spoken in Ireland for over three thousand years, encoding wisdom about the Irish landscape and protocols for interacting with human and otherworldly realms. This talk provides insight into my curation of the art exhibition Talamh agus Teanga: Land and Language in Contemporary Irish Art which engages the Irish language in contemporary creative practice to reflect on our interconnected worlds. Through visual art, dance, film, and performance, these Irish artists ground their work in the ethos of fite fuaite, meaning, “interwoven or inextricably connected” to reflect on the dynamic relationships between people, language, land, and sea. I focus on two art works in the exhibition, Biosystem VIII (2024) by Méadhbh O’Connor and Irish Tree Alphabet (2023) by Katie Holten. Biosystem VIII is a sculptural installation referencing nature as an interconnected system and deeper relationships to the cosmos. Comprised of five living orbs whose plants require daily tending to the material qualities of this work will change over the duration of the exhibition. Irish Tree Alphabet is an installation printed on sustainable fabric that reforests visitors’ imaginations through the creation of a new visual language that centers ngaolta crainn, arboreal relatives, of the more-than-human world, just as her Irish ancestors did through ogham. Fite fuaite, is an Irish worldview and ethical practice that enacts relationality and reciprocity and the work in Talamh agus Teanga is one window onto its expression through creative practice.

Elizabeth Cecil (FSU Religion)
“The Living Rock: The Powers of Lithic Media in Khmer Material Culture”

This presentation will discuss the results of field research in 2023 at premodern (ca. 10th century CE) rock shrines and shelters clustered on the sandstone plateau of Phnom Kulen (Lychee Mountain). Kulen was the site of the region’s earliest settlement and provided the stage for formative political rituals in the Khmer realm. As reflected in the many Sanskrit and Old Khmer inscriptions preserved on natural rock surfaces, the lithic landscape was also a space for asceticism, funerary rituals, and healing practices for devotees of the deity Śiva. In addition to exploring evidence of Kulen’s early use,  I also documented the ways that ancient Khmer sites continued to be powerful places for modern ritual practitioners. I learned that the continued efficacy of rock sites was not contingent upon their historical preservation; rather, practices were informed by Indigenous understandings of the vitality of lithic media. Mountains, caves, quarries, rock-shelters, and crafted stone objects are loci where Neak tā (the Old Gods) continue to be present, to manifest themselves and be receptive to the efforts of devotees to contact, please, and petition them, much as they were in the premodern world.  

Michael Carrasco (FSU Art History)
“Images, Agency, and the Organization of Matter in Mesoamerica”

In this paper I examine the animacy of Mesoamerican devotional images through ethnographic, epigraphic, historical, and art historical sources to suggest that material animacy and sacral presence is achieved through the physical and discursive construction of the deity image. This view stands in contrast to the normative position that animacy is an ontological condition of matter and there is no inherent distinction between spirit and matter. Drawing from James Maffie’s work on Nahua philosophy, I first address these issues through a close reading of the Nahuatl term tecpana “to arrange or put in order” and what I suggest is its Classic Maya equivalent found in the word tz’ak. I then turn to the ways through which mythology serves both to legitimate the ontology of images and their efficacy, and to inform basic patterns of ritual consecration fundamental to the ensoulment of sacred images. By elaborating these threads connecting worldview and the lived environment, as they find expression in the animacy of images, I add dimension to how we understand Mesoamerican conceptions of the sacred. Specifically, I reveal that deities derive their mandate through the origin stories that often also instruct on the manufacture, consecration, and use of their images and shrines. Acknowledging this pattern, it is productive to view similar Classic period Maya narratives through this lens, to better understand the panoply of sacred images that populated the Mesoamerican sacred landscape and the ecologies of the sacred that linked these images to their referents, human devotees, and architectural contexts. Informed by work in the history of religions and image theory, a close reading of texts and images paints a picture of the Mesoamerican sacred image that specifies and complicates the modern, commonly-held perception that matter is inherently and axiomatically inanimate. 

Daniela De Simone (Ghent University)
Ritual Landscapes and Ceremonial Objects of Pre-modern South Indian Upland Forest-dwellers” 

This presentation will discuss the results of the latest research on pre-modern burial rituals and practices of the forest-dwelling communities of the Nilgiri Mountains, a massif with peaks above 2500 m amsl forming part of the Western Ghats at the junction of the three South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The Nilgiri plateau is a region of montane subtropical forests inhabited by indigenous groups. The tops and ridges of the Nilgiri Mountains are dotted with megalithic tombs, which were excavated in the 19th century by British colonial officers. The tombs were built over a burial pit containing a single or multiple ceramic urns along with grave goods including bronze, iron, gold, and stone artefacts, which date between the 1st and the 6th century CE and the 12th and the 16th century CE. Terracotta figurines representing humans, wild animals, and plants and trees are usually found embedded in a layer of charcoal resting on the stone slabs covering the burial pit. These terracotta figurines are often unearthed in a fragmentary condition and it is likely that they were broken deliberately prior to deposition, probably for ritualistic purposes. The numerous potsherds with burn marks recovered in the proximity of the tombs seem to indicate that feasting might have occurred at the sites. 

Jayur Mehta (FSU Anthropology)
“Indigenous Fisheries, Shell Middens, and Monumentality: Describing the Longue Duree of Floodplain Landscapes in the Atchafalaya”

Monumental shell works, shell middens, and earthen mounds are found throughout the interior of the Atchafalaya Basin and just inland from the margins of the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Many of these sites surround Dauterive Lake, Lake Fausse Point, and Grand Avoile Cove, water bodies artificially impounded by early 20th century levee projects. The geomorphology of Bayou Teche also significantly impacted settlement dynamics in this region before modern levee building. This paper situates the long history of human settlement along coastal Louisiana and links the archaeology of the region to the cultural patrimony of contemporary Indigenous communities and their on-going practices, and struggles with, fishing, hunting, and living in a rapidly eroding and changing coastal plain. 

Joseph Hellweg (FSU Religion) 
“Ecology as Eschatology: Indigenous Hunting, Song & Sacrifice in Islamic West Africa”

In northwestern Côte d’Ivoire, indigenous hunter-healers, called dozos, sing the feats of their dead colleagues to spur living dozos to dance and kill game at each dozo funeral (kozi). The meat, intended for the dead man’s family and singer, pleases the “shadow double” (ya) of the dead man, which can then depart for the afterlife instead of perturbing crops, the hunt, and livestock. At dozo funerals, then, words, the landscape, and animals link in a series of transformative substitutions. The sequence culminates in a sacrifice (saraka) that joins the shadow double of the deceased to his soul (ni) in the grave to await Islam’s final judgment. Intriguingly, the Manding word for sacrifice, saraka, derives, from the Arabic, sadakat, or non-obligatory alms. Fittingly, dozos trace their metaphorical descent from a figure named Manimory who, they claim, descended from Nabi Enzu, the hunter Esau of the Book of Genesis, and, through him, Nabi Ismaïla, born a hunter in the wilderness of Hagar and her husband, Nabi Ibrahima, or Abraham. Dozos thus derive their Islamic descent beyond Arabic and the Qur’an. Those who hunt memorably may, in turn, be sung at future funerals. Such performances make the hunt an iterative yet non-repetitive process of verbal inscription: an embodied scripture (Gaunt 2006) — what Derrida (1967) called arche-writing and what my host, dozo singer Dramane Coulibaly, called the dozos’ “Qur’an.” His songs ultimately transformed indigenous ecological practice into Islamic soteriology.

Arya Adityan (FSU Religion)
“Bonds Beyond Human: Exploring Kinship in Human-Boar Relationships in the Early Skandapurāṇa and Tulu Pāḍdanas”

My presentation will engage in a comparative analysis of two significant narrative traditions about the divine boar (called Varāha in Sanskrit sources and Panjurli daiva in the Bhūtakola tradition, a regional festival from coastal Karnataka and North Kerala) using the Sanskrit text of the early Skandapurāṇa (c. 7th-8th century) which preserves one of the earliest accounts of Viṣṇu’s boar manifestation along with evidence from the Tulu Pāḍdanas, the oral narratives used in the Bhūtakola festival, in which the Panjurli daiva plays a central role. I aim to offer a nuanced understanding of the dimensions of “animality” and the portrayal of non-human and more-than-human beings in South Asian traditions and their interconnectedness.

This exploration involves an analysis of fictive bonds portrayed in Classical Sanskrit texts and Indigenous narratives in South India, through case studies of Varāha and Panjurli daiva. The study prompts us to reconsider the dynamics between humans, non-humans, and more-than-human entities, challenging the conventional anthropocentric interpretation of religion. By contrast, it emphasizes the participation of diverse agents in this ecological framework. It further reexamines these notions through a renewed understanding of animism, engaging in a multispecies investigation that delves into culturally specific notions regarding individuals and objects on the manifestation of kinship and agency.

Talia Burnside (FSU Religion)
“Un/Queer Ecology: Statecraft and the Religions of Animal Husbandry”

This essay historicizes animal husbandry in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century United States, particularly state tactics of surveilling, policing, and attempting to eradicate Indigenous nations within the slow death of ongoing settler-colonialism. The secular biopolitical regimes built on rendering productive species within industrial capitalism necessitated intimate interspecies contact while still maintaining sodomy, bestiality, polygamy, and other performances outside sexual hegemony as “crimes against nature.” The state incarcerating Indigenous nations by naming their sexual contact bestiality as opposed to husbandry elucidates how the state hoped to unqueer what they imagined as a queer ecosystem. They did so not by enforcing heterosexual performances, but by establishing competing interspecies intimacies within a vast ecological network, an assemblage self-consciously beyond the liberal, buffered self. This was, the agents assured, avowedly cis-heteropatriarchal sex. This essay, then, looks to animal husbandry as the labor of undoing Indigenous queerness, the articulation of an erotic and sexual intimacy, an assemblage of humans, animals, and plants, as a decidedly unqueer ecological makeup, and one wholly opposed to the intimacies and futurities offered by Indigenous nations. Further, building from current queer and Indigenous scholarship centering queer ecological relations, this essay closes by rethinking the “hetero” of heteronormative settler-colonialism to illuminate the whiteness in many attempts to discursively queer ecology without first decolonizing it. “Queer ecologies,” I argue, is not enough: the presence and performances of non-heteronormative sex acts, of intimacies beyond the nuclear family unit, is part of a longstanding colonial tactic. Our soil and biology, however queer, offer little hope, and “queer ecologies” without first literally and materially decolonizing only furthers the catastrophic monocultural production of settler genres of the human, the animal, and the land.  

Tyler McCreary (FSU Geography) and Rebecca Hall
“Settler-Colonial Psychiatric Care and the Confinement of the Senile Indigenous Subject” 

This paper examines the effects of how settler-colonial psychiatry approached care for Indigenous elders in mid-twentieth century British Columbia, Canada. Specifically, it examines the ways that settler psychiatrists operationalized the idea of an individual senile patient as the locus for care, extracting them from the kinship relations that define their identity within the Indigenous community. Using a case study methodology, the paper examines the story of a Witsuwit’en elder, who police found disoriented wandering his northern reserve community, detained, and then transferred to a mental health hospital 750 miles south. Despite regular letters from his family requesting his release, medical authorities determined the man senile and unfit for return to the community. He thus spent the last nine months of his life institutionalized and alone far from home. Combining archival and community-based research methods, this paper traces the story of this medical displacement along three tracks. First, analyzing hospital records and correspondence, it shows follow how psychiatric determinations of senility served to justify involuntary medical confinement and rebut family demands for release. Second, examining individual patient files alongside formal investigations into hospital conditions, the paper exposes how isolation in the mental health hospital continually eroded patient sense of self and psychological wellness. This was particularly the case for Indigenous patients, isolated from their community and immersed in a foreign language institution. Third, the paper unpacks the community effects of medical displacements, engaging family oral histories. It notes the ways that the disappearance of family members ruptured kinship ties and the ability of families to grieve. Finally, the paper closes by emphasizing how combining community-based and archival research not only allows researchers to better understand the history of medical displacement, but also brings a measure of closure to impacted families. 

Ian MacCormack (Hebrew University/FSU Religion)
“Primordial Perfection and World Transformation: Buddhist Politics in Early Modern Tibet” 

Is a humanist politics compatible with more-than-human religion? This paper explores evidence from early modern Tibet in the light of this scholarly turn, asking how each can potentially illuminate the other.

Tibet’s 17th-century rulers conceived their state-building project as both a humanist and Buddhological endeavor, both collaboratively constructed and divinely constituted. They situated that project in a cosmos pervaded by gods, distant realms, and other numinous forces, but also aimed for the human intervention in and transformation of that cosmos, making world order the outcome of human activity rather than the reverse.

The values, goals, and activities of this state became meaningful against the backdrop of Buddhist and especially tantric metaphysical and cosmological ideas about world and self. In turn, Tibetan religio-political theory adds critical perspective to two tendencies in the study of more-than-human religion: an impulse to decenter the human as a locus of inquiry, and a shift in emphasis from “transcendentalist” to “immanentist” conceptions of religion. Finally, I will suggest that this case speaks to a line of theoretical inquiry that would see humans and the powers that exceed them as being co-constitutive of one another.

Haylee Glasel (FSU Art History)
“‘Let the River Live’: Contemporary Sámi Environmental Action and Artistic Practice”

La elva leve/ Ellos Eatnu/ Let the river live is a rallying cry first instituted during the People’s Action against the damming of the Áltá-Guovdageaidnu Waterway (c. 1978–1982). Still used in environmental action today, the phrase highlights the reciprocal relationship that Sámi have with the more-than-human world. This talk examines the relationships that artists Máret Ánne Sara, Anders Sunna, and Pauliina Feodoroff center in The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia’s The Sámi Pavilion (April 23–November 27, 2022). Across various mediums including installation art, painting and archives, and performance art, all three of these artists engage with artistic strategies connected with reindeer to assert Sámi land rights. The Sámi Pavilion opens up a window onto the role of kinship and relationality in Sámi society. The relationality in this work includes family members’ collaboration on content and form, the more-than-human world’s role in shaping the art, and the guidance of intergenerational dialogue partners and family members as a curatorial methodology reflective of the Sámi custom of learning from and listening to elders through storytelling. I analyze the reindeer as a central part of Sámi cosmology and investigate the close links between the health of the reindeer, the health of the people, and contemporary artistic expression.    

Tess McCoy (FSU Art History)
Sonya Kelliher-Combs: Embodying Alaska Native Knowledge and Resilience

Contemporary Indigenous art works to not only embody the present, but to preserve and reflect continuity with the past. Many Indigenous artists do this through their engagement with customary materials and practices. In many communities, process, skill, and knowledge are inseparable from the material, making Indigenous materiality about history, use, and respect for material and practice. Alaska Native artist, Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq, Athabascan, Irish, German) creates abstract installation artworks using customary materials and skills she learned from her family and imbues them with history and experiences of herself, her community, and her ancestors. These artworks represent an embodied knowledge, creating a storied object that reflects Indigenous materiality and a resistance against their loss. This presentation focuses on Small Secrets, an installation of 49 gut skin pouches embedded with hair, beads, and thread and Credible, Small Secrets, an installation of 355 pouches made of cotton fabric, walrus stomach, and sheep and reindeer rawhide embedded with hair, beads, and thread. Each of these installation works represent intergenerational transmission of knowledge through the skills of gut harvesting, drying, and sewing, as well as through historical and personal implications of trauma, healing, and motifs related to the pouch design. I argue Small Secrets and Credible, Small Secrets are representations of resilience, persistence, and (re)assert Indigenous stories, histories, and experiences. Through her creation of these works, Kelliher-Combs is not only representing a resurgence and reclamation of these practices and use of materials but is reflecting the unbroken ties of knowledge in her Alaska Native community.

Sheila Scoville (FSU Art History)
Full of Sweet Magueys: Agave–Human Symbiosis in Colonial Nahua Codices” 

The symbiosis between humans and agave, a genus of useful succulent plants known in Spanish as maguey, has long formed landscapes in which people have negotiated their positions by telling stories and making images. Mesoamericans codified their knowledge of agave, a central element of their agriculture and religion. Consequently, Nahuatl-speaking artists sowed dense imagery of agave. This visual lushness persisted in their pictorial manuscripts during the sixteenth century, as colonization gained ground and the memory of the pre-Hispanic past blurred. While scholars have focused on the human events depicted in central Mexican codices, general insensitivity to plants has overlooked broad areas of meaning related to ecological knowledge. My analysis of the Mapa Quinatzin and Mapa Tlotzin integrates colonial Latin American art history with archaeology and ethnobotany to present new readings of these pictorial genealogies as articulations of the human–agave symbiosis by which people and plants prevailed on each other to flourish, migrate, and diversify. I identify how these early colonial pictorials ground Indigenous land claims in mutual relations with nonhuman co-inhabitants, namely agave. In line with concepts proposed by Mexican Indigenous scholars, I maintain that Nahua claims to corporate autonomy rested not only on ancestral ties to place, but also on the fact that “place” in Mesoamerica represents a heritable investment of time spent forming and managing biocultural landscapes in partnership with plants and other beings. Situating Nahua visuality of agave in the context of ecocultural inheritance opens a promising new entry into the obscure painted worlds of Mesoamerica and contributes a humanities perspective to an emerging paradigm that has reconceived life as so relational as to provoke a radical reimagining of being.

Amanda Brown (FSU Religion)
“Tibetan Buddhist Rituals Invoking the Fierce Deity Yamāntaka: Material and Immaterial Actors of the Macabre” 

Tibetan Buddhists invoke the fierce deity Yamāntaka (Tib. Shinjé shé; “The Ender of Death”) to quell internal afflictions and eradicate external enemies. Yamāntaka deity practice employs detailed visualization sequences and physical manipulation of various objects to achieve its aims. These visualization sequences create a three-dimensional world felicitous for subjugation, filled with an array of weapons, retinues of ghastly spirits, and frightening scenes of charnel grounds. Likewise, the material objects used in these rituals signify the macabre and terrifying. Ordinarily auspicious items like butter lamps and stūpas (Buddhist reliquaries) are inverted by filling them with “contaminated” items like blood, leper’s skulls, and murder weapons. Yamāntaka ritualists also use similar “impure” substances, for example, blood, human fat, urine, and so forth, for magical recipes to affect enemies via constructing sympathetic connections to the victim. The repugnant and the dangerous are employed here as sources of power to attack enemies. Following Latour (2005), I will examine the roles of ritual objects (Gentry 2017) in Yamāntaka practice, as well as the roles of invisible agents in the actor-networks that define Buddhist ritual arenas as they are experienced by the Buddhists themselves. I will show that these rituals function by linking multiple agencies of the macabre, both human and non-human, material and immaterial. I will use a specific case study of the Yamāntaka rituals of Drikung Chökyi Drakpa (1595-1659), a prominent figure in the Drikung Kagyü sect of Tibetan Buddhism and friend to the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617- 1682). I have chosen the rites of Chökyi Drakpa since they represent a shared ritual repertoire for attacking enemies via non-human and material forces in a time of political turmoil and sectarian strife in the struggle of Tibetan unification during the seventeenth century. 

Ajiththa Sugantha (FSU Religion) 
“Serpent Deities (Nagas) in Ancient Sri Lanka: Evidence from the Kaddukarai Excavation”

This paper explores the religious landscape of premodern Sri Lanka using evidence from the   Kaddukarai excavation (2016-2018), located in the Kilinochchi District, Northern Sri Lanka. Significant material findings from the excavation include terracotta figures of Serpent sculptures (Nagas), as well as other animal sculptures and Śiva liṅgas. Most of these objects, and evidence of settlements, were found around water tanks and other hydrological features. These objects and their settings are suggestive of a religious landscape characterized by concern for fertility, water and the power of more-than-human figures. 

My presentation focuses particular attention on the naga figures–deities often depicted in iconography as human–cobra hybrids adorned with jewels and seated on pedestals. These deities figure prominently in the material and literary cultures of South and Southeast Asia in which they are associated with rain, riches, and agricultural fertility. The Terracotta naga sculptures from Kaddukarai are some of the earliest examples from Sri Lanka, and this evidence contributes a new layer to the history of Naga worship in ancient South Asia.  This study uses the Kaddukarai evidence to expand our understanding of the religious landscape in ancient Sri Lanka and emphasize the intimate relationship between environment, ritual, place, and practice in an early society.

Kaitlynn Balmer (FSU Religion)
“Beyond Anthropocentrism: Posthumanist Reflections on Technology, Plants, and Animals”

The Enlightenment, followed by the rise of humanist ethics and philosophy, placed humanity at the center of everything. Overwhelmingly, modern people accepted this view of the world through an anthropomorphic lens. This humanist tendency is evidenced by the development of “human” rights as well as consumerist trends that largely ignore the well-being of other species. Recently, scholars started to reconsider this centering of human beings in the world due to the increasing intelligence of technology, the climate crisis, and other consequences of our anthropomorphic actions. Thus, a new area of study was adopted: posthumanism. This subject focuses on the future of humanity and reimagines our relationships with other species or things. Accordingly, posthumanism comprises a wide range of schools of thought, all of which carry their own set of ethical queries. While posthumanism has found expression in countless modes, this paper will focus on three posthumanist cultural concerns: technology, plants, and animals.