Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Not flowers, the white undersides of leaves! (In Prospect Park)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Anthropocene so white

The Bloomington conference on religious perspectives on the "age of humans" has finished. Is there a new field of Religion and Anthropocene whose birth I got to be part of? I'm not sure. Lots of religion wasn't represented (narry a non-North Atlantic tradition mentioned, if I can include Native North American traditions in that rubric). And we didn't really get into the argument about good or bad Anthropocene. So what did we do? We discussed industrial food production, paradigms of environmental ethics, science fiction, TEK (traditional ecological knowledge), transhumanism, ecological grief, eco-anxiety and hope, with scattered references to Donna Haraway, Clive Hamilton, Bruno Latour and - why not? - Hannah Arendt. (I mentioned Haraway in my futurist Job, too.) We also watched a rather appallingly fun movie.

What stayed with me was a talk by a British geographer, who pointed out that discussions of the Anthropocene are almost exclusively the province of white people. Every speaker had problematized "Anthropocene" for a thoughtless universalizing, lumping together the privileged few who are the drivers of anthropogenic change with the powerless many who suffer the brunt of the damage. We'd heard from Native scholars who observed that the dystopic lifeworld collapse the Anthropocene may portend for all of humanity has already been lived by colonized, indigenous and enslaved people for centuries. These were familiar arguments, but the geographer framed her comments shatteringly with lines from Audre Lorde's poem "Litany for Survival":

And when the sun rises we are afraid 
it might not remain 
when the sun sets we are afraid 
it might not rise in the morning
... and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

The Anthropocene theorists I've been engaging all assume we were meant to survive. But we're the same people who didn't mean for everyone to survive, who accepted the displacement and impoverishment of many others as the price of progress. We beat our breasts about the many others who will suffer more displacement and impoverishment because of climate change, extinction cascades, rising seas and the like. (Ugolino uncannily appropriate, indeed!) But in discussing the Anthropocene we assume the place of the future scientist looking back on this stage in earth's history (a morally chilling detachment we got to witness in the film's interviews with members of the stratigraphic commission): we assume we'll be among the survivors, or at least that the survivors will be like us.

And I was giving a talk presuming that the Book of Job will still be read, that there will still be people who identify with Job's story! As D. J. A. Clines has observed, there is hardly any text which more perfectly speaks of and to rich people trying to face down the thought that they might one day no longer be lords of the earth. While my projected future Job made room for others - animals (my Harawayan moment was "make kin, not babies"), and the hidden laboring classes of the world, symbolized by Mrs. Job - but the last, especially, sound like an afterthought. While claiming to mourn them as others don't, I still defaulted to the view that Job's first children were never meant to survive. I was still assuming that the story that matters is Job's. I have work to do!

(The picture is the cover of a book by a Finnish speaker. The title translates as Going to Hell? Environmental Attachment and Hope.)

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Nice stained glass in a little chapel next to the Indiana Memorial Union

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Indiana has a set of Thomas Hart Benton murals, too! An originally 230 foot tableau of the 'Social History of Indiana' for the 1933 Chicago International Exposition is now spread over three buildings at IU, most of them in the 1941 auditorium whose vestibule was designed to house them. Hard to snap!

Friday, May 18, 2018


At the entrance to the Indiana Memorial Union, where our conference is taking place, a rather disturbing statue by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, sent from France in 1948 as thanks for postwar assistance of some kind. It's Ugolino and his sons - just right for a conference on religion and the Anthropo- cene...?

Thursday, May 17, 2018


I've arrived in Bloomington, Indiana for a conference called "Religious Perspectives and Alternative Futures in an Age of Humans." The somewhat awkward age of humans is a way of referring to the Anthropocene mindful of charge that the term homogenizes a state of affairs for which only some anthropoi are mainly responsible. In any case, I'm excited by the way the conference is framed:

Discourse of the Anthropocene resonates strongly with mythic and religious genresdeclensionist or ascendant storylines; tales of hubris, forbidden knowledge, theodicy and eschatologymaking the Anthropocene ripe for analysis by religion scholars. The Anthropocene raises religious and ethical questions about how to understand humanity’s place within planetary evolution, and how to envision the future trajectory of human societies. Scholarly debates arise over dystopian and utopian visions; whether some human groups bear greater moral responsibility than others for environmental harms stemming from colonialism, capitalism, and industrialization; and whether the Anthropocene represents a spiritual aggrandizement or condemnation of humanity. Our project assumes that these debates about what it means to be human in an “Age of Humans” fall within the purview of religion, philosophy, theology, and ethics.

I'm one of thirty-odd presenters, and we have enough time through Sunday to get to know each other at receptions (like the one where I found gingerbread anthropos). In my talk I'll be speculating about how the Book of Job might be read as our consciousness absorbs the significance of the "age of humans," offering these projections as an example of a sort of a semi-scifi "conjectural exegesis" of sacred texts which might help us make sense of what's going on and who we are in it.

Flow of history

Something's going on beneath the surface of Indiana.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Groves of academe

Self portrait with Lang courtyard trees as another academic year ends.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In depth coverage

We're always told not judge a book by its cover, but consider the poor cook cover designer! Judged by the cover and by the book. A student in "Performing the Problem of Suffering: The Book of Job and the Arts" 
took on the challenge of designing a new cover for the Book of Job (in the translation I recommend) and it's a dusey. As it leads you into the book, the cover unfolds and unfolds in a brilliant - and profound - way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

And into summer we go