Rethinking Relations and Animism: Personhood and Materiality, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Rethinking Relations and Animism

Personhood and Materiality, 1st Edition

Edited by Miguel Astor-Aguilera, Graham Harvey


198 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2018-10-25
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Personhood and relationality have re-animated debate in and between many disciplines. We are in the midst of a simultaneous "ontological turn", a "(re)turn to things" and a "relational turn", and also debating a "new animism". It is increasingly recognised that the boundaries between the "natural" and "social" sciences are of heuristic value but might not adequately describe reality of a multi-species world. Following rich and provocative dialogues between ethnologists and Indigenous experts, relations between the received knowledge of Western Modernity and that of people who dwell and move within different ontologies have shifted. Reflection on human relations with the larger-than-human world can no longer rely on the outdated assumption that "nature" and "cultures" already accurately describe the lineaments of reality.

The chapters in this volume advance debates about relations between humans and things, between scholars and others, and between Modern and Indigenous ontologies. They consider how terms in diverse communities might hinder or help express, evidence and explore improved ways of knowing and being in the world. Contributors to this volume bring different perspectives and approaches to bear on questions about animism, personhood, materiality, and relationality. They include anthropologists, archaeologists, ethnographers, and scholars of religion.


"From religious objects that mobilize communities, to the analysis of techno-animisms where robots and humans project agency in Japan, passing through the redefinition of Stonehenge and Mayan Polyontologies, Rethinking Relations is a book that will make a significant impact in anthropology, religious studies, and archaeology […] In essence, Rethinking Relations gives us a refreshing view of traditional anthropological concepts, where notions like personhood, animism, and agency take on a whole new meaning, one that fulfills the ideal of what Latour has called a symmetrical anthropology."

- Sergio Gonzalez Varela, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Reading Religion

Table of Contents

Foreword by Philip P. Arnold

Introduction: We have never been individuals

Miguel Astor-Aguilera and Graham Harvey

PART 1: Relations

1 On the Ontological Scheme of Beyond Nature and Culture

Marshall Sahlins

2 Persons or relatives? Animistic scales of practice and imagination

Nurit Bird-David

3 Adjusted styles of communication (ASCs) in the post-Cartesian world

Graham Harvey

PART 2: Things

4 Assembling new ontologies from old materials: Towards multiplicity

Oliver J. T. Harris and Rachel J. Crellin

5 Religious objects: Uncomfortable relations and an ontological turn to things

Amy Whitehead

6 Robot Companions: The Animation of Technology and the Technology of Animation in Japan

Fabio R. Gygi

PART 3: Approaches

7 The Ontological Turn, Indigenous Research, and Niitsitapi Protocols of Reciprocity

Kenneth H. Lokensgard

8 Maya-Mesoamerican Polyontologies: Breath and Indigenous American Vital Essences


9 Environment, ontology and visual perception: A saltwater case

Katie Glaskin

10 "Are All Stones Alive?": Anthropological and Anishinaabe Approaches to Personhood

Maureen Matthews and Roger Roulette

About the Editors

Miguel Astor-Aguilera is associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, USA. An anthropologist by training, his scholarship concentrates on material culture and socio-religious theory. He specializes in Mesoamerican ontology and cross-cultural personhood issues and his publications include "Comparing Indigenous Pilgrimage" (2008), "Latin American Indigenous Cosmovisions"(2016), and The Maya World of Communicating Objects (2010). His current research focuses on Maya ritual specialists in the Yucatan peninsula and their healing practices as related to their ecological behavioral environment.

Graham Harvey is professor of religious studies at The Open University, UK. His research and teaching largely concern the rituals and protocols through which various Indigenous people and Pagans engage with the larger than human world. His publications include Food, Sex and Strangers: Understanding Religion as Everyday Life (2013), The Handbook of Contemporary Animism (2013) and Animism: Respecting the Living World (2nd edition 2017). He is co-editor of the Routledge monograph series "Vitality of Indigenous Religions".

About the Series

Vitality of Indigenous Religions

Routledge's Vitality of Indigenous Religions series offers an exciting cluster of research monographs, drawing together volumes from leading international scholars across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives. Indigenous religions are vital and empowering for many thousands of indigenous peoples globally, and dialogue with, and consideration of, these diverse religious life-ways promises to challenge and refine the methodologies of a number of academic disciplines, whilst greatly enhancing understandings of the world.

This series explores the development of contemporary indigenous religions from traditional, ancestral precursors, but the characteristic contribution of the series is its focus on their living and current manifestations. Devoted to the contemporary expression, experience and understanding of particular indigenous peoples and their religions, books address key issues which include: the sacredness of land, exile from lands, diasporic survival and diversification, the indigenization of Christianity and other missionary religions, sacred language, and re-vitalization movements. Proving of particular value to academics, graduates, postgraduates and higher level undergraduate readers worldwide, this series holds obvious attraction to scholars of Native American studies, Maori studies, African studies and offers invaluable contributions to religious studies, sociology, anthropology, geography and other related subject areas.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Religious
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Comparative Religion
RELIGION / Ethnic & Tribal
RELIGION / Spirituality
RELIGION / Paganism & Neo-Paganism
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology of Religion
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Indigenous Studies