Abstract: Although numerous studies have identified plant personhood practices in non-Western cultures, limited attention has been granted towards similar practices present in Western cultures. In the Study of Western Esotericism, where research on alternative cosmologies and European Earth-based religions finds an academic home, discussions on the topic are curiously absent from the field’s foundational works. None of the seminal overviews by two pioneering scholars, Christopher Partridge and Wouter Hanegraaff, delve into the cultural significance of animism present in the paradigms they examine – unless in relation to entheogenic plants. However, evidence of practices of personhood acknowledgment between humans and plants is documented in prayers, incantations, and agricultural traditions, often related to esoteric threads. These demonstrate that plant personhood is not only native to the European ontological and epistemological canon, but has continued to be both present and active in the West from the Enlightenment through the Industrial Revolution into today.
Bio: Natalia Schwien is an herbalist, scholar, and environmental advocate. She is a PhD candidate in the Study of Religion at Harvard Univeristy. At Harvard Divinity School, she recently completed a Master of Theological Studies degree with a focus on ecology and spiritual practice. Her research is primarily around expanded ontologies of personhood, neoanimism, and posthuman ethics. She is also the Sustainability Specialist at Middlebury College's Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest and the Assistant Program Director for Harvard Divinity School's new Program for the Evolution of Spirituality under Dr. Dan McKanan. She leads the HDS Animism Reading Group which has featured a variety of scholars, writers, scientists, filmmakers, and animacy practitioners. She is a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation apprentice.
Abstract: What happens when Christ is seen as a plant? This paper compares the historical, mythical theological and ritual development of two churches – the Native American Church and the Santo Daime – who use plant entheogenesis in their praxis. How have Christianity and plant-spirituality changed and been changed in these instances? And what, more importantly, can mainstream Christianity learn from these ways of being church?
Bio: Having studied Theology and Religion at Pembroke College, Oxford, been a lay chaplain, tutor, and toy-demonstrator Mark is now an independent researcher based in London. The child of a German priest and an Estonian witch, Mark Juhan has published poems, talks, and essays on the relationship between nature and humanity during the Anthropocene.
Abstract: In this presentation, I will show how people participating in ritual practices with ayahuasca experience transformations of relationships with nature and how this influence lifestyle and spirituality. Psychotropic plants, like ayahuasca, have been used for religious purposes for thousands of years in the Amazon-region, but in the western world this is part of contemporary new spiritualities as lived religion. I question in what ways elements of nature are experienced as carrying spirituality, how nature can be experienced as sacred and alive, and how spiritual experiences and communication with nature pulls spirituality in new directions.
Bio: Silje Trym Mathiassen is priest in The Church of Norway and has worked for several years with interreligious dialogue in Stavanger, Norway. Her special competence is within new spiritualities. Co-author of several books on interreligious dialogue and meditation. PhD-candidate at the University of Stavanger with the project Sacred plants - spiritual experiences.
Abstract: In this paper I will explore the understudied relation between the movement of psychedelic seekers that arose in the 1960s, and the subsequent rise of radical environmental activism in the 1970s. The philosophical touchstone for radical environmentalism is Deep Ecology, a loose body of intellectual inquiry dedicated to realizing a collective form of post-human consciousness. Variously termed “non-anthropocentrism” and “eco-centrism,” this mystical transformation entails the dissolution of individual subjectivity into a wider, more holistic form of awareness that includes the perspectives of the animal world, plant life, and even the geographic terrain itself. Deep Ecology literature presents this metaphysical shift in consciousness as the only means by which humanity will avert total planetary catastrophe. My argument will first identify the conspicuous silence on the part of radical green ideologues concerning the mechanism by which this operation will be accomplished. Next, I will demonstrate how the architects of Deep Ecology appropriated the consciousness-expansion discourse of psychedelic evangelists in the 1960s as the mechanism of eco-salvation, but obscured this fact for fear of persecution during the War on Drugs. Finally, my paper will conclude by showing how this policy of guarded reticence has been exploited by eco-fascists, who have gained a large measure of support within the radical environmentalist milieu by offering their own “organicist” model for uniting humanity within a singular, collective consciousness.
Bio: Dr. J. Christian Greer is a scholar of Religious Studies, currently holding a postdoctoral position at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. His forthcoming book, Angelheaded Hipsters: Psychedelic Militancy in Nineteen Eighties North America (Oxford University Press), analyzes the expansion of psychedelic culture in the late Cold War era.
Institution: Harvard Divinity School, Massachusetts, USA
Abstract: This paper explores the role of Amazonian plant medicines in promoting indigenous spirituality and in changing hegemonic environmentally damaging attitudes. Inspired by Bateson (1972) views on rituals and spirituality, it argues that plant medicines could be seen as tools for changing larger social and ecological contexts faster. It discusses if the indigenous spiritual awakening is a rupture with dominant practices or a consequence, reflecting on aspects of cultural appropriation within plant medicines. Conclusions drawn on the resurgence of indigenous animist values and related cosmo-visions that may help us to move beyond the dominant attitudes that originated the current ecological crisis.
Bio: Dr. Maria Fernanda Gebara is an anthropologist whose research considers the Amazon as a site where nature, culture, politics and spirituality are enmeshed. She has been analyzing the challenges to anthropocentric attitudes from diverse perspectives, investigating local traditions and practices to understand alternative configurations between human and other-than-human beings.
Abstract: With the increase of deforestation for agricultural purposes, suburban sprawl, and mass consumption of unsustainable food-sources, the presence of invasive species and so-called ‘weeds’ simultaneously increases. However, the negative perception of these plants and the ‘war on invasive species’ contributes to more ecological damage and increases an adversarial relationship with the living Earth by ignoring the needs of a diverse, functioning, and abundant ecosystem. For example, the carcinogenic chemical, Glyphosate, is sprayed hundreds of times a year onto public green spaces in an attempt to eradicate plants that might otherwise be food and medicine, attract and support beneficial insects, bring up minerals from the subsoil, detoxify the soil, and sow fertility. This presentation will reframe and remember the cultural, spiritual, and medicinal significance of plants such as mugwort, dandelion, poison ivy, and plantain, while arguing for a general acknowledgement of their purpose in their greater ecosystems. In this talk, we will explore ways to engage with these ubiquitous healers through a discussion on rituals, wildcrafting, medicine making, and foraging to show how awareness of the plants that share our ecosystem can have implications in ecological restoration, spiritual practice, regenerative living and environmental justice.
Bio: Vanessa is an herbalist, rewilding educator and founder of Sacred Warrior (sacredwarrior.co) whose mission is to deepen relationships with ourselves and the environment. Her upcoming book, Awakening Artemis: Deepening Intimacy With The Natural World and Reclaiming Our Wild Nature, will be published Fall 2021 with Viking in the US, Penguin in the UK and Ullstein Press in Germany.
Abstract: This paper draws on ongoing ethnographic research on the rising popularity of Tea Art in China, probing into the affective dimensions of the human connection with tea under the context of Chinese humanistic thinking. As a unique platform for the performance of a practice-based philosophy — here understood as “reflective thinking upon life” — Tea Art points to the cultivation of ecological sensibilities that are at once anchored in modernity’s reaction to anthropocentric climate change, and concepts central to the cosmology of Chinese Philosophy. Thus, tea becomes a medium for the reconfiguration notions of nature and the interconnectedness of human life with its environment.
Bio: Thiago Braga is a PhD candidate at the University of California Davis department of anthropology. His research interests lie at the intersection of anthropological theory, cross-cultural philosophy, and art history.