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Book: Ritual, Personhood and the New Animism

Chapter: Exhibitionism: Animism, Kinship and Conservation at Science and Art Museums around the World

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.45195


In recent decades scholars from diverse disciplines in the Arts and Sciences have been advancing animistic spiritualities, kinship feelings toward non-human organisms, and eco-organicist/Gaian worldviews, in order to promote proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors. Providing evidence from Europe, Africa, and the Americas, analyzing displays, images, motion pictures, and texts at such venues, I argue that curators at many of the world’s museums, have become influential promoters of entirely naturalistic forms of animistic perception. By so doing they provide paths to spirituality, meaning, and purpose that are especially relevant for those who have left behind the world’s predominant religions. These venues seek to evoke emotions and perceptions that echo longstanding religious and mystical perceptions while enriching and reinforcing them with scientific understandings. Whether the venue is art-focused or science-focused, curators fuse the arts and sciences as they appeal to the aesthetic and scientific sensibilities of visitors. For many of whose who have deep feelings of belonging and connection to nature, these spaces function as shrines and pilgrimage sites. Such individuals include, perhaps especially, those who do not consider themselves to be religious but who nevertheless, recognize non-human organisms as kin, worthy of respect and reverence. The global convergence and proliferation of exhibitions expressing and promoting Gaian and Animistic naturalism illuminate how such nature spiritualties are effectively competing for the spiritual hearts and minds of millions of people around the world.

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