Tag Archives: Animism

Living Systems

What I’m posting below isn’t an academic argument.  It’s not well defended, and maybe not even well thought out.  And I know it needs more thorough consideration, and critique.  But it struck me as worth putting down in text.



If we want a new world, we must think a new way.


A category of thought that is Green from its very beginning, its foundation.


To recognize the whole of the world as alive.


Systems are alive.


Social systems.  Ecosystems.  The motions of the planets.  The little pressures of bureaucracy, in the politics of workday life.  The wind as it makes leaves dance, of vines climbing up over powerlines.  The group dynamics of dogs, cats, roaming the neighborhoods.  Of flocks of birds, and schools of fish.  The cityscape of streets and roads and paths.  The flow of traffic. Economic systems of trade and exchange.  The lightspeed flow of information.  The dialogues of art, with art.  The shape of the motion of tiny, virtually massless particles, with nothing more than a miniscule negative charge.  The organization of ideas, of histories of thought.  The shape of history itself.  The shapes of it, as it changes, and is changed behind us.


Everything is alive.  The patterns themselves are alive, that we trace out their forms recognizes that they are identifiable phenomena, but we forget that they are in motion.  What we describe moves, it changes.  And in so living, adapting, becoming, it thinks.  It is minded.  It has a telos of its own, an entelechy that shapes.  And all of these systems, moving of their own, are that which comprise other systems, even greater.  The motion is the boundedness, but is not a fundamental division between, but rather describes only unique patterns and outlines, as water in a current is not divisible from other water, but takes on shapes of intensities and momentums.  These systems overlap and interplay, the self-same components in different phases of motion and movement at one and the same time, influenced and informed by so many all at once.  All alive.  All thinking, intending.


This is why the study of Religion is important.  The study of Religion has the potential to be the new ground for a radical re-understanding of the world.  To know these systems as alive means that the study of relationships will be vital.


The practice of religion must come to be understood as the human, both social and individual, reaching beyond, within, and amongst itself to know the minds, bodies, selves, and beings of that which is not, or is only sometimes, human – and even composed of the human – where there is that which is not like the human, but all the same a person possessed of its own rights, its own agency.  The study of Religion has the potential to be at the forefront of this radical change in thinking.  Religion as understood new and wholly different than it has been before.


It is a new picture of the study of Religion.  No more just the study of particular cultural manifestations.  This, too, but much more.  To radically re-conceive the world as composed of living, minded systems all around us means that there must be a new way in which we approach the whole concept of knowing the world.  The study of Religion is uniquely situated to being that discipline which attempts to understand the extraordinary degree of complexity with which all affects all, all effects all, and in which everything is alive, changing, moving, dynamic, and willful.  A study that is inherently post-human, but nevertheless bound up inextricably with the human, and the perspective of the human, in terms of fields of investigation including linguistics, geography, politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and every other conceivable front of knowledge.


The study of religion has the potential to be the catalyst toward a change in perspective that begins to understand the agency of animals, plants, stones, places, but more, the agency of flocks, the agency of social groups, the agency of forests and ecosystems, moving out in stranger and more novel arrangements of beings at every level, not only in scales of greater and lesser degrees of composition, but moving tangentially, and in strange articulations of unexpected organizations and arrangements.  This place where the agency of an individual is contextualized by the agency of the group, of the systems of motion that describe and constrain the group, such that agency at every level of composition of uniquely mobile multiplicities informs but never obliterates the agency of any and every other level or mode of composition.


We must have a new, Green way of thinking.  To change the world the way in which it is necessary to be changed, in order to survive and become sustainable, we must think a whole new thought, a new Idea to reshape the world.  The Green must think itself in our very bodies and bones, such that we see ourselves within the myriad motions of a living world, everything around us active, intelligent, and in motion.  Every system of relationship and exchange, itself alive.


The study of religion has the potential to be where this new understanding of the world, and a radically new thought, begins.

A Brief Summary of a Proposed MA Thesis

I’m toying around with this as a potential MA thesis topic.  I’m posting it here for possible feedback and thoughts…  I’m excited about the ideas, whether they go forward in exactly this form or not!


Update – 2011/10/08 – Minor rewording


The Trees are Human: Psychoactive Plants, the Subjectivity of Nature, and an Engagement with Modernity in the Napo Runa Kichwa Culture of Ecuador

This thesis is an exploration of the intersection of three distinct areas of inquiry: the experience – shamanic, religious, mystical, or ecstatic – of psychoactive plants; worldviews that recognize and affirm subjectivity and agency in the other-than-human-persons of plants, animals, and places; and how such worldviews engage with, resist, integrate, and transform forces of globalization, in terms of neoliberal economic policy, cultural integration of technological change, and democratic forms of government and self-government. In following a set of concepts put forward by Ralph Metzner among others, this work suggests that unique responses to the ecological and psycho-social devastation currently facing the techno-scientific, capitalist-industrialist “modern” world may very well be found in the link between worldviews affirming the subjectivity of nature, and the phenomenology of the experience of psychoactive plants.  This is to say that it is possible that affirming the subjectivity of aspects of the “natural” world can act as a means by which ecological factors cease to be understood only as resources for human exploitation.  This thesis presents an effort to understand how Napo Runa people are able to engage with the seemingly inherent tensions between the forces of globalization and more traditional ways of understanding the world, without forcing a false dialectical synthesis. By focusing on specific ethnographic research, an effort is made to see these worldviews in context with one another as they are being actively lived and negotiated. This research focuses on understanding and communicating the complexity of lived worldviews through stories, histories, and the relating of experiences of the Napo Runa Kichwa people near Tena, Ecuador. This ethnographic research is done in an attempt to ascertain how psychoactive plants and worldviews that affirm the subjectivity of the other-than-human “natural” world are in dialogue with one another, and thereby mutually informing. Embedded within such an effort is a questioning of whether or not the “tensions” that might be perceived between these worldviews and techno-scientific ones present themselves as such for Runa people, or if such tensions are a product of putatively Western and, perhaps more explicitly, academic, categories. Shaping the aims of this research is the question of how people, both shamans and non-shamans, characterize their experience with psychoactive plants, what they draw from these experiences as personally meaningful, and how these experiences have translated into action in, and understanding of, the world. An effort is made to ensure that the immediate and personal experiences of people stand side by side with discussions of urbanization, neoliberal economic policy, and techno-scientific modernity, such that categorical contrasts are neither ignored nor erected without immediate grounding in lived experience.

Animistic Revival and Psychoactive Plants

In doing research for the new working group on psychoactive plants and religion, I came across an article by Ralph Metzner published in the Eleusis journal in 1997.  In it, he puts forward the premise that a revival of animistic worldviews is necessary to combat the exploitation and destruction of the ecosystems of which we are ourselves part, and that psychoactive plants and the shamanic systems of knowledge within which their use has been situated are very likely to play a distinct role in any such radical change.  Though the article was published in ’97, it’s no less relevant or timely now than it was then, and I found it distinctly inspiring.  Having written recently on animistic worldviews and their relationships to an embedded and immediate sense of ecology, it makes me downright enthusiastic to read other work like this!