Many scholars have touched on the relationships between religion and nature since the work of late nineteenth-century anthropologists such as Edward B. Tylor. This is almost inevitable in studying some religions, especially indigenous ones. Nevertheless, only since the 1950s has anthropological research gradually been developing that is intentionally focused on the influence of religion on human ecology and adaptation, part of a recent multidisciplinary field that some call spiritual ecology (Merchant 2005; Sponsel 2001, 2005a, 2007a, 2007b, 2007c; S. Taylor 2006). At last this ecological approach is beginning to receive some attention in textbooks on the anthropology of religion, ecological anthropology, human ecology, and environmental conservation, though it is still uncommon in the anthropological periodicals (Bowie 2006; Marten 2001; Merchant 2005; Russell and Harshbarger 2003; Townsend 2009). This article summarizes a sample of the growing literature and cites other sources to help facilitate the eff orts of those who may find this new subject to be of sufficient interest for further inquiry.
Exploring Spiritual Ecology
Leslie E. Sponsel
The Spatial Turn in Research on Religion
Following a consideration of the impact of the late twentieth-century spatial turn on the study of religion by geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and religious studies scholars, two trends are distinguished: the poetics of place and the sacred; and politics, religion, and the contestation of space. Discussion of these reveals substantially different approaches to religion, space, and place—one phenomenological, the other social constructivist. The spatial turn has been extremely fruitful for research on religion, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines, and connecting not only to traditional areas such as sacred space and pilgrimage, but to new ones such as embodiment, gender, practice and religious-secular engagements.
Recent Studies of Amazonian Ontologies
Luiz Costa and Carlos Fausto
The ethnography of lowland South American societies has occupied a central place in recent debates concerning what has been called the 'ontological turn' in anthropology. The concepts of 'animism' and 'perspectivism', which have been revigorated through studies of Amerindian ontologies, figure increasingly in the ethnographies of non-Amerindian peoples and in anthropological theory more generally. This article traces the theoretical and empirical background of these concepts, beginning with the influence of Lévi-Strauss's work on the anthropology of Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and proceeding with their impact on Amazonian ethnography. It then investigates the problems that two alternative traditions—one combining a cognitivist with a pragmaticist approach, the other a phenomenological one—pose to recent studies of Amazonian ontologies that rely on the concepts of animism and perspectivism. The article concludes by considering how animism and perspectivism affect our descriptions of Amerindian society and politics, highlighting the new challenges that studies of Amerindian ontologies have begun to address.
Moving Relations, Patterned Effusions
François Berthomé and Michael Houseman
This article reconsiders the connection between 'ritual' and 'emotion' from a pragmatic, relational perspective in which rituals are seen as dynamic interactive contexts and emotions as fairly short-lived emergent properties and integral components of these interactions. It emphasizes ritual's capacity to reallocate social positions by instantiating characteristic patterns of relationship, and the way particular emotions crystallize and express these patterns. In short, ritual emotions are treated as the sensate qualities of ritual relationships. From this standpoint, emotions feature in ceremonial settings not as striking experiences grafted onto practices and representations, but as constitutive aspects of ritual interactions themselves, whose properties of bodily salience and relational reflexivity both reflect and inflect the latter's course in a variety of sensory, expressive, moral, and strategic ways. Four issues relating to ritual and emotion are discussed within the framework of particular ceremonial practices that have been the object of much recent research: (1) the ritual expression of emotions in funerary laments, (2) the waning of cathartic models in the interpretation of rites of affliction, (3) the intense emotional arousal characteristic of initiatory ordeals, and (4) the self-constructive, affective dimensions of contemporary devotional practices.
The Uses of Ethnography in a Contested Field of Scholarship
Since the 1980s, there has existed a field of scholarly inquiry into a range of phenomena termed New Age. The relative lack of ethnographic studies in this field was identified several years ago, in response to research that focused merely on the discourses within alleged key writings. However, the employment of ethnographic methods does not by itself resolve the problems inherent in other modes of research; attention also has to be paid to how ethnography is used in practice. This article examines ethnographies of the New Age in terms of the extent to which they contextualize data within their immediate social frames, by paying attention to actors' practices and interactions, and to the ways in which beliefs and discourses are constructed and contested. The article demonstrates the strong tendency among New Age ethnographic studies to veer from 'the social' and to rest instead on analytically problematic conceptualizations of agency. It argues that epistemological revision is required to form the basis of a more sociologically adequate understanding of the phenomena addressed.