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Relational Epistemology, Immediacy, and Conservation: Or, What Do the Nayaka Try to Conserve?

Issue: Vol 2 No. 1 (2008) Vol 2, no 1 (2008): Indigenous Religions and Environments: Intersections of Animism and Nature Conservation

Journal: Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture

Subject Areas: Religious Studies

DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v2i1.55


In this paper we ask whether and in what way Animism relate to conservation, with focus on one group, the Nayaka of South India. We argue that in order to pursue this question one must first recognize the immediate quality of Nayaka Animism as well as some important aspects in their relational epistemology (Bird-David 1999, 2006). Our analysis shows that Nayaka are not committed to conserve their environment. Their concern lies mainly with keeping good relations with specific co-dwellers in the shared environment in ways and for reasons which we explore in the paper. This concern has indeed some conservationist effects, but as byproduct. Our analysis also shows a valuable way-of-knowing, as much as the nowadays appreciated ‘indigenous knowledge’. These arguments are supported by Nayaka ethnography, and are further clarified by a preliminary heuristic comparison between the model which can be read into the ethnography and the model which informs an ambitious international program for biodiversity conservation which is implemented in the Nilgiris of South India, where the Nayaka live.

Author: Nurit Bird-David, Danny Naveh

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