Extinction & Religion: Disappearance, Reappearance, and Novel Productions

Jun 15, 2019 12:00 AM
International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 2019 Conference

My introduction…

The past century has been characterised by an odd oscillation between homogenisation and diversification. On one hand, we have a phenomena that George Ritzer has characterised as the “McDonaldization of Society”. As the corporate entities that drive consumer capitalisism become ever more consolidated, there has emerged a ubiquitious if banal presence of the familiar. In this way we might draw a line between the presence of McDonalds in Tibet and regional “language extinction”. Tangled up all together here at what Thom Van Dooren calls the “dull edge of extinction” are commensurable expressions of power - the franchise, the colony, the factory, along with multiple kinds of disappearing: of language, of indigenous cultures, of religion, of biodiversity. Yet, the modern human experience for so many people is characterised by hyper-paced, hyper-exposed, hyper-diversity, an idiosyncratic daily experience which is saturated by various forms of fragmentation and pluralism. Perhaps this is why so many persons find homogenity to be so comforting as we zoom around in what Zygmunt Bauman called “liquid modernity”. Disappeared are not only forms of life, culture and liveliness, but coherence and continuity.

And yet, there are some reasons to forestall straight-forward lament for these disappearances. As we feel the sharp pains of lost organising principles, I want to test the limits and plumb the depths of these new alterities of loss. In particular, I want to probe our eco-cultural-abjection for traces of these aforementioned hegemonies. What I want to suggest with this chapter is that at least on some levels, the dying legacies which we are laying to rest are swaddled in Enlightenment blankets. Seen in this way, part of the ethical freight of this grappling with extinction lies in our new inexperience in dealing with non-hegemonic and novel forms of life and culture. Is there some symmetry to be found in the novel forms of religiosity which mark the post-secular return of religion to Europe and the novel forms and patterns of biological life which are appearing unexpectedly? Might “novelty” and our grappling with it provide a corridor through which we might begin to build up a new anti-extinction ethical platform? To explore these questions, I want to test out symmetries and dissymmetries of cultural and biological extinction and resurrection along three themes: living alongside novel appearances, opening up abjection and working with the “Living Dead”.

Jeremy Kidwell
Jeremy Kidwell
Associate Professor in Theological Ethics

Ethicist, activist, hacker, ethnographer and eco-theologian. Interdisciplinary and unafraid.