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Animism and the Environment: a modern perspective

Animism and the Environment: a modern perspective

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Published by Raymond Lam
An essay I wrote for a religion and environment course at the University of Queensland, Australia. It draws from many different perspectives - including that of Western humanism and scientific research - to support an animist worldview applicable to modern religious believers.
An essay I wrote for a religion and environment course at the University of Queensland, Australia. It draws from many different perspectives - including that of Western humanism and scientific research - to support an animist worldview applicable to modern religious believers.

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Published by: Raymond Lam on Jan 17, 2010
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08/27/2010

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RELN2010: Religion and EnvironmentMajor Essay: Modern animism and Personhood: caring through ‘giving, morality, andrelations’Word Length:2000Due Date: 02/06/2008Lecturer: Dr. Sylvie ShawRaymond Lam
 
I
NTRODUCTION
The ‘personhood’ of non-human entities is a concept common to many traditions of animism. A common theme emerges when applied to the context of modernenvironmental earth care. This essay will put forward an approach that abandons thecommonplace anthropocentric worldview,
1
and re-engage with the Earth and its beings inthree different aspects of being:
 giving 
,
moral 
, and
relational 
. What is offered is not amere bastardization of animist values, which in itself offers nothing truly innovative or daring, but a re-imagining of the personhood of non-human subjects (I intentionally donot use the word ‘object’), which not only brings neglected animist ideas back to theforefront, but has the potential to even transcend cultural boundaries. The understandingof all beings on Earth as ‘persons’ is not limited to one people; it belongs to all. For lack of a better word, humans (people) and non-humans (animals and other non-humansubjects) are all ‘persons’ in the truest sense of the word: worthy of care and protection.Through a new understanding of this ‘personhood’
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, the animism of the future becomesan ethical contribution that awakens us to our oneness with Earth and non-humansubjects. Human beings have potential to care for non-human subjects by generouslygiving to them, encompassing them within the moral sphere, and establishing relationswith them like the animist of old. This essay attempts to demonstrate the validity of ‘personhood-based’ animism as a modern environmental approach, and then build on the
1
The anthropocentric worldview is most dominant in Western consciousness. However, this is by and largea historical and cultural development, and hence can be modified or even abandoned to a certain extent.
2
‘Personalism’ is a near-synonym of animism. Theresa Smith notes that Hallowell described the Ojibweworldview as ‘personalistic’. Smith (1995) pg. 49
 
three animist concepts (giving, morality and relations) to present a modern ethic of carethrough which people can put into practice.
A
NIMISM
In the next century, the sixth mass extinction is foretold to be a human-causedcatastrophe.
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 However, the endeavour to preserve the world so that humans can continueto benefit from it or be ‘spared nature’s wrath’ remains trapped in anthropocentrism. Ahigher, deeper end to this cause is required. But ignorant of this reality, modern discoursehas continued to exclude animals
4
from the domains of self-awareness, intention andcommunication, which have been held to be the exclusive attributes of the human race.This denial not only cuts away at little remaining time humanity holds, but continues tofoster indifference and ignorance to the plight of the Earth. This is almost an unnecessary problem, because even now archaeologists and palaeontologists can only make their  judgments about what constitutes a ‘human specimen’ within the limits of materialevidence.
5
 Thanks to new evidence, the line between humans and ‘primates’ is thinner than ever.
6
There is no clear-cut line between humanity and animals – in fact, there isnone. Without the scientific justification to claim human difference and superiority over animals, some have appealed to emotions and prejudices by appealing to our self-awareness, intention, and self-reflexiveness, which are traits apparently exclusive tohumans.
3
Bleakly (2000) pg. 51 – 52
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If even animals are denied their personhood, what chance does a tree or the Earth have?
5
Trompf (1990) pg. 112
6
ibid. pg. 113

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