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Analyzing Relationship Between Animism in Social and Ecological ProcessesResearch Paper

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¶ … Animism in Social and Ecological Processes

Edward Tylor is credited for using the term "animism" for the first time, in his 1871 foundational research on Primitive Culture, when describing the first phase of religious thought development. This is the phase where "naturalism" -- a completely materialist interpretation of the universe -- was displaced by the stage wherein spirits and souls were deemed to have a role to play in life functioning. Religion proper was believed to emerge from animism. Meanwhile, scientific rationalism was thought to succeed religion. Tylor's Primitive Culture represents a text rooted in the notion that, just like biology, culture undergoes evolution (PCi 1-2); additionally, according to Tylor, certain (Western) cultures enjoyed further progress than others[footnoteRef:1]. In Animism, inanimate objects such as plants are considered to have souls. Animism is an age-old belief which, perhaps, sprung from the necessity to find a means of identifying what is animate and what is inanimate. [1: Matter, "Yeats, Fairies, and the New Animalism," New Literary History, 2012, 138]

Animism in the Context of Religion

Religion in animistic form is termed as "folk religion" (for instance, "folk Islam" or "folk Hinduism"). The tendency of individuals to drift towards a certain form of religion can help account for why several individuals hailing from nations with a Buddhist or Hindu heritage find it hard to accept and believe in things the way their religion's "textbook" description wants them to. A majority of religions across the globe consider God as distant, unknowable, and abstract. For instance, in Hinduism, "Brahman (a term used to describe God or the ultimate reality) is nirvana" (i.e., without attributes)[footnoteRef:2]. An attribute-less God is, clearly, extremely abstract and distant. Consequently, followers experience a sort of spiritual void, which requires filling. This they have done using 30 million intermediary Gods. Another example of a drift towards animism is the Western world's "New Age" movement[footnoteRef:3], which surfaced 2-3 decades ago. Central to this movement was meditation, wherein the meditator worked towards experiencing unity with God. However, this focus on meditation has now been rivaled by a focus on getting in touch with one's spirit-guide. This, again, signifies mankind's tendency to shift, from a non-concrete concept of the Lord, towards filling one's spiritual void with more personal and more concrete spirit-beings. This propensity also accounts for why several individuals hailing from secularized cultures (wherein "evolution" replaces belief in God) have, in the last few years, been drawn so strongly to angels and SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)[footnoteRef:4]. Therefore, it is important to understand animism, as individuals gravitate towards this religious form. While it is hard to quote exact figures, an estimate on the percentage of people across the globe with this worldview is significantly large. [2: Halverson, "Animism ... " International Journal of Frontier Missions, 1998, 59] [3: Hornborg, "Animism, Fetishism, and Objectivism" ethnos, Journal of Anthropology, 2006, 24] [4: Matter, 140]

Animalism in Secularity

The word "secular" is characterized by many nuances: it may refer to anything from increased freedom of interpretation of doctrines for individual believers (whose dedication to divine values does not diminish), to the complete denial of the existence of a divine order[footnoteRef:5]. Meanwhile, animists consider themselves to be residing within an interrelated world, and are strongly attached to their family members, whether living or deceased (i.e., living in the spiritual realm). Animists also claim to have a connection with the spiritual realm; Living beings are affected by the ambivalent desires of gods, ghosts, spirits, and ancestors. Animists feel connected to nature, and it is believed that the stars, the moon, and the planets influence earthly events[footnoteRef:6]. Therefore, animists feel that no individual is capable of living as a separate entity, isolated and distant from members of his/her extended family, nature, spiritual powers, or other humans' thoughts. Secular conjectures are, in today's postmodern era, being increasingly contested, but several forms of the animist concept have become practical options. Animism can be regarded as the antithesis of secularism in several ways[footnoteRef:7]. Animists believe that spiritual powers control all living things, while secularists hold one of two beliefs: 1) Spiritual powers do not exist; and 2) Even if they do, these powers rarely intervene in our natural realm. Individuals following animism are afraid of the spiritual powers they believe in, whose activities have to be discerned and manipulated frequently, while secularists hold the belief that they are capable of charting their course in life through reason, resourcefulness and human inventiveness. Animists aspire for harmony with the world around them, feeling that the universe's powers and forces are interconnected, while secularists seek to manipulate the world around them by employing technology and science. [5: Van Rheenen, "Animism, Secularism and Theism" INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF FRONTIER MISSIONS, 1993, 170.] [6: Ibid] [7: Ibid, 171]

Exploration of the Relationship between Animism in Social and Ecological Examples

Climate change, resource (energy, water, minerals, etc.) scarcity, resource degradation, biodiversity loss and other complex environmental issues have been continually growing in significance in political as well as scientific communities. In the past ten years, mankind has made great strides in interdisciplinary investigation, as well as in modeling coupled SESs (socio-ecological systems). Several research strategies have been devised and employed in different researches that explicitly consider the relationship between the ecological and social systems[footnoteRef:8]. These strategies include: modeling humanity's behavior and factors specifically influencing ecosystems; combining energy/material flows with economic flows; recognizing and modeling certain goods relevant to both ecological and human systems; and analyzing SESs' adaptive management and resilience[footnoteRef:9]. [8: Binder et al., "Comparison of Frameworks for Analyzing Social-ecological Systems." Ecology and Society, 2013.] [9: Ibid]

Strathern, in her critical comparison of Euro-American and Melanesian "persons,"[footnoteRef:10] asserts that the individual's irreducibility is a singularly modernist idea. It isn't everywhere that individuals are considered as one single entity, integrated and bounded, and contrastingly set against other individuals, as well as against social and natural backgrounds. The latter "person" represents a complex of connections, a microcosm that is homologous to the overall society, objectifying relationships and making them known. This she terms as a "dividual," contrary to the "individual" (Euro-American). It is a popular notion that: Indians, if represented as individuals, are misrepresented, more because, as per the Indian way of explaining and thinking, every individual represents a complex of transferable units forming his/her unique individual substance than because of some holistic-collectivist identity[footnoteRef:11]. [10: Strathern, "The gender of the gift:" Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988] [11: Bird-David, "Animism" Revisited, Current Anthropology, 1999, S67-S91]

Nayaka inhabited a social setting that facilitated, and, in turn, was reproduced through "dividuation" of fellow Nayaka. They were not even 70 in number in 1978-1979, when they dwelt in 5 sites spanning two to ten kilometers from one another. The largest group was comprised of 5 dwellings (thatched shelters with bamboo walls), while the others comprised of 1-3 dwellings. These dwellings stood close together, despite the terrain allowing their dispersal, and contained as many as 3 living spaces, scarcely separated from one another. Each living space was inhabited by one nuclear family[footnoteRef:12]. The families ate, rested, and slept mere meters apart, outside, beside fireplaces, when the weather permitted. Their domestic lives were spent together, sharing actions, things, and space. They simultaneously experienced things happening to themselves and to other Nayaka. This occurred with a majority of Nayaka inhabiting the Gir region. Their interaction with, and observation of, others' life experiences was not limited to neighbors' experiences -- there was considerable movement between Nayaka sites, with people staying at one another's places for any amount of time, from a few days to weeks or even months[footnoteRef:13]. [12: Ibid, s72] [13: Strathern]

The idea of sharing a single space, actions, and things, with other individuals was at the heart of the Nayaka approach to social life. They were normatively required to share things with everybody present, particularly large game, regardless of preexistent social ties, entitlement, and conditions. Sharing with anybody present and distributing things among others were equally important. Moreover, Nayaka were expected to grant to others anything they requested (whatever it may be), and avoid refusals. The perceived sense among them was: "everyone here shares with one another." The concept and system of sharing represented a habitus in which agentive manipulation, nonconformity, and negotiation occurred[footnoteRef:14]. For instance, people typically shared whatever others requested them to, but when they expressly disliked parting with something, they tended to hide it or avoid others, instead of disrupting the pattern of their regular social life, and their constant sense of sharing. In this way, the Nayaka forestalled the chance of requests for sharing, and subsequent refusals. Equally, individuals unduly asked for things from those they wished to discomfit, or persuade into persistent lending[footnoteRef:15]. [14: Bird-David, S73] [15: Ibid]

In my view, the Nayaka's day-to-day experiences of sharing things, actions, and space contextualized their knowledge of one another: they dividuated one another. Gradually, a Nayaka would begin to understand how other individuals spoke with fellows, rather than how they spoke; how other individuals worked with fellows, rather than how they… [END OF PREVIEW]

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