Fellow in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Contributor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Jon Bialecki (Born 1969, JD 1997, Ph.D. 2009) is a fellow in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. His academic interests include the anthropology of religion, anthropology of the subject, ontology and temporality, religious language ideology, and religious Transhumanist movements. His ethnography A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement is out with the University of California Press, and he is currently writing a book on the intersection of Mormonism and Transhumanism.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
I’d like to start this post by juxtaposing two scenes. The first one is set about two years ago, and occurred on the third floor of the Provo, Utah Convention Center. The scene was very similar to the one found in any academic conference—down to the dais, the rows of chairs, and a screen designed for projecting PowerPoint slides. We were between presentations, and as often happens during moments such as these, I was spending the interstitial moments catching up with acquaintances I mostly know from on-line interactions. In the case at hand, the person I was talking to is in his late twenties or early thirties, someone who had recently left his position in the United States Marines; in fact, he had left the military so recently that he still had the short haircut associated with service. On his arm, he also had a tattoo of an electromagnetic equation. He is holding one hand out in front of my face as we talk. In normal conversations, a gesture like that would be rude, but this was not a normal conversation. This is because he was describing how, at very close distances, he can feel the presence of electricity with his hands. He had gained this ability through intervening in his physical body—biohacking—which I will return to shortly. (more…)
Filled with new atheists who see religion as “deathism,” yet animated by yearnings for immortality played out on a cosmic scale, it is easy to see why there is debate as to whether transhumanism and singulatarianism are either formally or effectively religious or religion. On one hand, the anthropologist Abou Farman has convincing argued that the one of the key historical possibility conditions for transhumanism to emerge as self-conscious social movement was religion’s loss of its monopoly on the ability to make determining statements on ultimate issues. If the Church cannot speak authoritatively about eternity, perhaps some futurists can? But Farman’s observation has to be weighed against the plethora of transhumanist organizations that have taken on religious trappings – groups like Teresem, Turing Church, or The Church of Perpetual Life. Further, there is also the claim that since striving for immortality can be given a genealogy that runs as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh, it cannot be properly classified as solely belonging to the secularism or the current secular dispensation (though this argument mistakes genealogical linkage for fixed identity).
Editor’s note: This week, we’re bringing you the first look at something slightly different. In addition to our regularly scheduled programming, Platypus has decided to experiment with guest-edited thematic series, which will bring together a range of anthropologists working on similar issues for a more theoretically-oriented conversation held over several weeks. Here, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie introduce our first series, on Transhumanism and Anthropology. If you are interested in participating, please let them know; if you are interested in organizing a future thematic series, please do get in touch with the Editor.
Anthropologists, long relatively comfortable bearing the mantle of studying humanity, today find themselves working in increasingly posthuman theoretical spaces. Anthropos, as a unitary figure, had already began to crumble under the weight of postcolonial, feminist, and deconstructive critique during the eighties; lately, however, our empirical work is pushing us still further beyond the human. This is particularly, but not uniquely, true for those of us working on the anthropology of science and technology: we often find ourselves, whatever our theoretical commitments to the posthuman, grasping for an appropriate language as we try to figure the multispecies assemblages, vibrant matter, and sociotechnical infrastructures we encounter alongside the humans we interact with in our fieldwork. (more…)