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ISSRNC/REDO - When Rocks and Plants are Persons: Ritual Innovation and a Reassessment of “Animism” (2/2)

Panel Chair: Sarah Pike | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

This panel is a collaboration between the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and “Reassembling Democracy: Ritual As Cultural Resource,” an international research project. The panel will build on sessions about animism and ritual that Harvey, Seamone, Salomonsen and Pike participated in at the AAR Meeting in 2014 and will include ethnographic research in the United States, Canada, India and Norway. Our cases explore the dynamics of animistic practices in both innovative and traditional contexts while critically evaluating the meaning of “animism,” a central category in the history of religions. Do Pagan environmentalists, for instance, practice animism in different ways than Hindu pilgrims in India? Re-theorisation of “animism” has encouraged scholars from many disciplines to reconsider ontological and epistemological issues. The panel will foreground questions of intersubjectivity, relationality and ritualization in the “new animism” debates and will explore their relation to issues of innovation and tradition

Sarah Pike

Animism and Biophilia in the Rituals of Radical Environmentalists

The emotions that motivate radical environmentalists often develop through powerful, embodied experiences with non-human beings during childhood. These experiences involve the blurring of boundaries between human and tree bodies and the projection of human emotions onto forests. Various factors shape activists’ rituals, such as embodied memories of childhood, including speaking with and climbing in trees, and contemporary Pagan beliefs in nature as sacred and animate, which borrow from traditional indigenous knowledges in the context of a new religious movement. Ritualized actions such as creating sacred space at forest action camps and sitting in trees with nooses around their necks both construct and reinforce earlier emotional and physical relationships with trees as sentient beings. This paper analyzes activists’ constructions of nature as animate and sacred in order to understand the ways in which bodily and emotional experiences of childhood shape adult ritual performances in the spiritually charged context of radical environmentalism.

Bron Taylor, Kristina Tiedje


Bron Taylor and Kristina Tiedje will respond to the issues raised in this double panel.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)