Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Can humans, roosters and the sun be bound together by a promise? Can raw rice absorb the maliciousness of evil spirits? Can words neutralize the venom of snakes? This paper is an invitation to rethink “magic” and “animism” with my interlocutors of the Mising and Adi tribes, who find the human-nonhuman and life-nonlife binaries of early anthropological theories problematic. In the ethnographic fieldwork I conduct in North-East India on the revival of the Adi-Mising indigenous religion Donyipolo, I encounter individuals who are critical of anthropological attempts to rationalize their practices for an audience embedded in Eurocentric views. Thinking with their frustrations about terms like “magic” and “animism”, this paper examines power relations between scholarship emplaced in “the West” and philosophies of the “East.” Drawing on my interlocutors’ comments about early anthropology in the North-East, this paper also asks how the religious philosophy of tribes understood to be “primitive” stands in relation to “Oriental” religious philosophy such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and how both are shaped simultaneously by European epistemologies of the nonhuman and nonlife. Attentive to my interlocutors’ apprehensions that they too have forgotten how to access their ancestral ways of thinking about nonhumans and nonlife, this paper examines the epistemological fault-lines that both the transnational ethnographer and her indigenous interlocutors tread on during fieldwork. Drawing on transnational, feminist and posthuman scholarship, this paper attempts to examines modes of anthropological collaborations that can act as sites for decolonizing the anthropology of magic and animism.