Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
MAGLIOCCO, Sabina (University of British Columbia) CONTEXTUAL REENCHANTMENTS: RELATIONAL ONTOLOGIES AND ENVIRONMENTALISM AMONG MODERN PAGANS Anthropologists have noted that cultures with animistic or totemistic ontologies in which other-than-humans are granted personhood often engage in behaviors that support long-term ecological sustainability (Hallowell, 1960; Anderson, 1996). But are relational ontologies alone alone sufficient to inspire behavioral change? This paper examines whether and how relational ontologies work to foster sustainable behaviors through a case study of modern Pagans, a group of new religious movements united by their belief in the sacredness of the natural world. These religions engage in narrative and kataphatic religious practices designed to deepen their relationship with nature and the earth, assigning personhood to other-than-humans in their ontologies and regarding the earth itself as alive and sentient. Nonetheless, data from a large-scale study and 20 years of participant-observation suggest that re-enchanting the natural world does not necessarily lead to more sustainable behaviors. I argue that this is partly due to the fact that while relational ontologies in traditional societies are deeply intertwined with social structures, that is not the case for most contemporary urban and suburban North Americans. Moreover, Westerners are deeply embedded in a capitalist system based on environmental exploitation from which it is complicated to extricate oneself. Nonetheless, some data suggest that religious environmentalism resulting in relational ontologies contests the dominant naturalist paradigm (Bird-David, 1999; Descola, 2013) in ways that could eventually lead to long-term behavioral changes.