Closer, or the Pleasure of Being Eaten (Inner Animalities Book Event)

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Violence was present in my home. This does not make me special since violence is present in every home. I am even tempted to ask, don’t you know? There is no such thing as home. Only dead trees and minerals ripped from the ground and legally binding paperwork. Home is a name to cover that violence. But violence is not in itself a moral or ethical category. In naming home as violence I am not saying that home is bad or evil, though I am certainly also not claiming that violence simply is and that we should embrace it either, that violence is simply something “good”. In reading Eric’s Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human I was drawn to thinking about violence, to asking what it is. I was drawn to wondering about the violence of my childhood, to the violence of eating, the violence of sex, and the violence that is here now and that is to come.

So much of the violence of home seems to take place around the dinner table. One must of course give the usual preamble here: a certain home, a certain family, even a certain dinner, to say nothing about the table. But at least anecdotally I can think of how often the tensions of home, the underlying violence, often manifests at the dinner table. Allow me some biography here, since to write about life is perhaps to write about the one that we have lived. So I can think of my step-father here, whose job as a cop was always tied to violence, and who demanded that there always be meat at dinner.
Continue reading “Closer, or the Pleasure of Being Eaten (Inner Animalities Book Event)”

Proper Humanity and the Fantasy of the Subhuman (Inner Animalities Book Event)

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Animal Studies is an interdisciplinary field. And this is one of the things that makes it interesting. But one thing I’ve always liked about its deployment in the fields of religion and theology is how this illuminates what Derrida referred to as the “divinanimal” dimensions of creaturely life. It is impossible to think carefully about animals in religion or theology without making note of the fact that there are enduring ambiguities between that which is divine or angelic on the one hand, and that which is animal on the other. It is easy, perhaps, for a primatologist like Frans de Waal (whose contact with religion is not his research, but his childhood encounters with Catholicism) to suggest that the cultural subjection of animal life is largely indebted to religious values and theological ideas. But as religious and theological thinkers such as Eric Meyer—who dig deep into the textual reservoirs of the ancient past—have made clear, the divine has also, often, taken on animal dimensions. This is true even for Christian thinkers, with their confessional allergies to animality. This other tendency has always been there, subdued or suffocated though it may now be. I don’t think this undermines the genealogical connections between the subjection of animal life and religious thought cultures. But it does complicate the story.

Theological discourses in Christianity have long (and evasively) intimated that animals are—in some way—”above us” (united with the divine, perhaps even more grace-filled or virtuous than the human). This is economically expressed, I think, in the figure of The Open that Rainer Maria Rilke evokes, in his eighth Duino Elegythat place where the animal and the eternal fuse, the divine blends with the animal. But in a western intellectual tradition, where animality has also served as the foil against which the sovereign figure of human life has attempted to constitute itself, animals have never—in any simple or outright sense—been figured as “above” us. Western thinkers have recognized that in the image of Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom there seems to be some virtue, or some messianic dimension, to animality. But strenuous efforts have been made to read these moments as nothing but allegories, arguing that they have never been about anything but properly human life all along (I lay these arguments out, elsewhere). Stripping the animal of the divine or angelic results, then, in a move that wants to place these divested animals somehow “below” us, in a reservoir that sometimes goes by the name of the subhuman. Continue reading “Proper Humanity and the Fantasy of the Subhuman (Inner Animalities Book Event)”

Eucharistic Animals and Hope for Earth (Inner Animalities Book Event)

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This post was written by Jay Emerson Johnson. Jay is a  Professor of Theology and Culture and Academic Director of the Ignite Institute  at the Pacific School of Religion. He is also a member of the core doctoral faculty at the Graduate Theological Union.

The grief I felt after the death of my beloved Australian shepherd dog Tyler, back in 2013, surprised me. Connecting that grief to the leather-sex sub-culture of “pup play” surprised me even more. The link between these emerged from an academic colleague’s suggestion that I might find animal studies an apt complement to queer theory for my constructive theological work.

I adopted Tyler from the local shelter when he was already nine years old. He lived another seven, happy years as my nearly constant companion at both work and play. When the time came to let him go after a period of ill health, I knew it would be difficult but not nearly as gut wrenching as it proved to be. The empty space he left behind prompted more introspection on a whole range of questions than I had expected, including a classic that I had not posed for a long time: do I have something called a “soul” but Tyler did not? More broadly, what exactly have Christian theologians meant by claiming for centuries that God made humanity in God’s own image when at nearly every turn the latest ethological research identifies yet another feature that can no longer belong to humans alone? Continue reading “Eucharistic Animals and Hope for Earth (Inner Animalities Book Event)”

Ecotheological Pathways (Inner Animalities Book Event)

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This response is from Elizabeth Pyne, who is currently an instructor at Fordham University’s London Centre. Her research engages various intersections between theology, feminist and queer theory, and the environmental humanities. 

The beastly desire that animates creaturely communion with the divine; the spirituality of animal instinct – open, sensuous, intelligent; the gaze of animal eyes that cuts through human pretensions to sovereignty; the incarnation of the Logos as an invitation into the “endless animality” of redeemed life; the all- and never-consuming energetic economy of a messianic banquet, a feast of flesh as well as milk and honey, and a festival of intimate exchange. These are a few of the captivating figures of creaturely life that emerge at the end of the human. In the pages of Inner Animalities one encounters a perspicacious and compelling case as to why this end must be – for the sake of all creatures – and an imaginatively rich vision of what it could be. Although I’ve not had occasion to see Eric on form as a wilderness guide, over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of learning from his navigation skills as a fellow traveler in the realm of Christian theological anthropology and creaturely politics. This book is exemplary of what those abilities make possible. Continue reading “Ecotheological Pathways (Inner Animalities Book Event)”

Can Animals Sin? (Inner Animalities Book Event)

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This response is from James K. Stanescu. He is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Mercer University and blogs at criticalanimal.com.

The first half of Meyer’s book creates a theological archeology of human animality. I mean this very closely to the Agambenian understanding of archeology, in which we must interrogate that which is excluded in the human sciences so that we may actually understand that which has been traditionally included. As Agamben puts it, the point of philosophical archeology “is not properly a past but a moment of arising; however, access to such can only be obtained by returning back to the point where it was covered over and neutralized by tradition” (2009, 105).  As such, Meyer goes to the work of 4th century Christian theologians to trace the ways that animality has been excluded from theology, but also the stubborn fact of our shared animality always reasserting itself. Before I get too far into this engagement with Inner Animalities, I should note that I am not a theologian, or a religious studies scholar. Indeed, I am someone for who, to borrow a phrase from William James, belief in Christian metaphysics is not currently a live option. As such, while I found the archeological work of the first half fascinating, I have more to say about the second half of Meyer’s book. The second half is Meyer’s positive project, in which he seeks a “rethinking of traditional anthropological themes,” so that we can begin a “theological narrative [that] might revolve around human commonality with other animals.” (85) In particular, I am interested in the conception of sin that Meyer forwards. Continue reading “Can Animals Sin? (Inner Animalities Book Event)”

Inner Animalities: Book Event Introduction

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Today begins our book event on Eric Meyer’s Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018). Over the next several weeks we will hear responses to Eric’s book from scholars who work in the environmental humanities and animal studies, both within and outside of religious studies and theology: James Stanescu, Elizabeth Pyne, Jay Johnson, Jacob Erickson, and Anthony Paul Smith.

Eric Meyer is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Carroll College, in Helena, Montana. Academically his research and teaching explore the spaces where religious and theological thought traditions intersect with animal studies and the environmental humanities. Outside of academia Eric is an environmental advocate who’s worked in outdoor recreation and wilderness education for more than a decade. Inner Animalities explores the intersections between human and animal forms of life, within human beings. It is a book about, more than anything else, our human animality and (as Eric puts it) “what happens to the parts of ourselves that we hold in common with other creatures” when  “we obsessively differentiate ourselves from them.” (2) What happens, Eric suggests, is that we effectively tear ourselves apart and break ourselves down. For centuries, theology has been generating this break-down on our behalf. But, Eric argues, this has never been necessary to sustain a robust spirituality. In fact, it has probably been inimical to it. He dives back into the Christian theological tradition, to prove this claim. Continue reading “Inner Animalities: Book Event Introduction”

With demons like these…: A Response from Adam Kotsko

I would like to begin by thanking all five contributors for their engagement with my work and Sean Capener for his labor in coordinating the event (and selection of great post-header images!). Not everyone has the privilege of getting such varied and interesting responses to their book from five brilliant friends. And in contrast to many other book discussions I have seen (both of my own work and those of others), I never got the sense that anyone was misreading or mischaracterizing my work, responding to “the kind of thing” they think it is rather than to its specific goals and approach. While internal critique is not the only viable method, I think that academics as a whole tend to read with too much impatience and too little sympathy, mistaking harshness and negativity for intellectual rigor. The most productive discussions, in my mind, are never “debates” between opposed sides, but open-ended discussions between friends.

Continue reading “With demons like these…: A Response from Adam Kotsko”