Tag: religion

Fetishes or Cyborgs? Religion as technology in the Afro-Atlantic space

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, Umbanda or Xangô, are a cluster of religious practices that originated mostly in West Africa, especially in Yorubaland (Nigeria and Benin), but also in Congo and Angola. Similar to other Afro-diasporic religions (i.e. Vodou in Haity and Santeria in Cuba), Candomblé shares many elements with West African traditional religious practices, like the names and characteristics of their deities (called orixás in Brazilian Portuguese and òrìṣà in Yoruba). These deities embody elements of the natural landscape and atmospheric phenomena that are regarded as personas with their own material and spiritual agency. However, in the whole Afro-Atlantic space the most important common trait is the presence fabricated objects. After a ritual procedure they become the bodies and the material manifestation of the deities themselves. These objects, often referred to as “fetishes,” represent the point of mediation between the material and the spiritual world (Meyer 2012: 15). Indeed, Western conception of materiality is often charged with moral implications, opposed to the pure and transcendent qualities of the spirit (Espírito Santo 2010). Conversely, in Afro-Atlantic religions, objects, elements and atmospheric phenomena are considered to be alive or to have a certain individuality, will or personality, in a way that the scientific Western thought would consider unacceptable. (read more...)

Abu Dhabi Soundmarks: Building Community in the Midst of the Pandemic, One Voice at a Time

Editor’s note: This post is the fifth in our five-part series “COVID-19: Views from the Field.” Click here to read an introduction written by series organizer Rebekah Ciribassi. Editor’s note: Click the links throughout the article to experience the soundscape of Abu Dhabi under COVID-19 In March 2020, I arrived in Abu Dhabi from the island of Sardinia, Italy, to shelter in place with family members, here. As I recently documented elsewhere, after the lockdown was imposed in Italy, the soundscape of that place, and especially the culture of talking, physical contact and making face-to-face music, changed significantly. (read more...)

Gods, AIs, and Mormon Transhumanism

I’d like to start this post by juxtaposing two scenes. The first one is set about two years ago, and occurred on the third floor of the Provo, Utah Convention Center. The scene was very similar to the one found in any academic conference—down to the dais, the rows of chairs, and a screen designed for projecting PowerPoint slides. We were between presentations, and as often happens during moments such as these, I was spending the interstitial moments catching up with acquaintances I mostly know from on-line interactions. In the case at hand, the person I was talking to is in his late twenties or early thirties, someone who had recently left his position in the United States Marines; in fact, he had left the military so recently that he still had the short haircut associated with service. On his arm, he also had a tattoo of an electromagnetic equation. He is holding one hand out in front of my face as we talk. In normal conversations, a gesture like that would be rude, but this was not a normal conversation. This is because he was describing how, at very close distances, he can feel the presence of electricity with his hands. He had gained this ability through intervening in his physical body—biohacking—which I will return to shortly. (read more...)

The Role of Scientific Discourse in Chile’s Trans Rights Movement

On June 18, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the removal of “transsexuality” (a term based on psychiatric diagnosis and maligned by many trans activists as pathologizing) from the “mental disorders” section of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). After decades of activism, this move was applauded by trans activists around the world. Nonetheless, activists insist that the WHO—rather than removing trans identities entirely—should included them instead in its list of “sexual health conditions.” The commercialization of healthcare in much of the world means that, while trans people have no desire to be classified as “sick” or “mentally ill,” an official medical diagnosis remains crucial for accessing affordable medical care during the process of physical transition (to cover things like hormone therapies, surgeries, mental health support costs, etc.). In countries such as the US, where even private insurance companies are famously reticent to cover any expense not deemed “medically (read more...)

After, and Before, Anthropos

Filled with new atheists who see religion as “deathism,” yet animated by yearnings for immortality played out on a cosmic scale, it is easy to see why there is debate as to whether transhumanism and singulatarianism are either formally or effectively religious or religion. On one hand, the anthropologist Abou Farman has convincing argued that the one of the key historical possibility conditions for transhumanism to emerge as self-conscious social movement was religion’s loss of its monopoly on the ability to make determining statements on ultimate issues. If the Church cannot speak authoritatively about eternity, perhaps some futurists can? But Farman’s observation has to be weighed against the plethora of transhumanist organizations that have taken on religious trappings – groups like Teresem, Turing Church, or The Church of Perpetual Life. Further, there is also the claim that since striving for immortality can be given a genealogy that runs as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh, it cannot be properly classified as solely belonging to the secularism or the current secular dispensation (though this argument mistakes genealogical linkage for fixed identity). (read more...)

An Anthropologist Visits the Classroom: On teaching science (and religion)

Although I’ve never taught the book cover-to-cover, my copy of Latour and Woolgar’s (1986[1979]) Laboratory Life has been unpacked four times since I finished my Ph.D., six years ago during a final sweltry Florida summer. Their re-inscription of the Salk Institute has moved with me through the planned communities of D.C.’s suburbs, the tech-ifying Research Triangle of central North Carolina, and the cotton-cultivating arid flatland of west Texas. Now, Lab Life and I cohabitate—more peacefully than we used to—at one of New England’s dark-brick collegiate beauties. I’ve offered courses on the anthropology of science, in different iterations and incarnations, at George Mason University, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, and now Mount Holyoke College. As my nomadism gives way to more permanent settlement, I’m pausing to reflect on the modest successes (and felt frustrations) of sharing my passion for anthropology through attention to its liaison with science and technology studies. (read more...)

Technology and Religion: An Interview with Michael Sacasas of The Frailest Thing (Part 2)

(Michael Sacasas is a PhD candidate in the “Texts and Technology” program at The University of Central Florida. He blogs about technology at The Frailest Thing. This post follows on our conversation from earlier in the year which touched on some of the foundational work on the relationship between western religion and technology.) I am glad you brought up Nye’s pessimism over the consumer sublime and his consternation over the potential drying of the technological well. Nye wrote of the consumer sublime, as embodied by Las Vegas, as a “rush of simulations” and as marking a change from a technological sublime emphasizing production, particularly in the sense of new knowledge, to one concerned solely with consumption. How do you see the relation between simulation and technological production? Do you think Nye’s pessimism is warranted? Timely question. There’s been more than a little angst of late about technological stagnation, much of it recently associated with PayPal founder Peter Thiel. For the past few years, Thiel has been warning about trends which, in his estimation, suggest that technological innovation may have stalled out over the last thirty or so years. We were promised flying cars, he is fond of saying, and we got 140 characters instead (a passing shot at Twitter, of course). (read more...)