Animism in the academy

The conference ended a couple of days ago, and I’m off in a few minutes to catch a train for a day trip to an open-air museum in another part of Holland, but I want to catch up the conference story just a bit. Our panel presented on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning I discovered this blog summary from “Mr J,” another conference participant. Many thanks, Mr J, for your kind words!

The high point of the day, indeed of the conference so far, was the afternoon session on “Animism as a path to decolonising the Academy”.  This was a really brilliant session in a number of ways. It was led by four powerful women – two academics: Priscilla Stuckey and Mary Jeanne Barrett, and two representatives of American First Nations; Linda Hogan and Shauneen Pete. While there were robust academic discussions as part of this session, each chose to tell stories in order to express their own narrative of what Animism (and indeed what “the Academy”) might mean. These varied from Shauneen’s  beautiful rendition of a story about Raven creating Mankind (in a powerful and flowing embodied presentation) to Priscilla’s discussion of her relationship with a tree in her parent’s garden, and how it had come to visit her before it was cut down. Mary Jeanne raised some interesting ideas about how it might be legitimate to present information, in discussion of her own thesis (a hyperlinked website that raises the question of how academia can include the voices of the animate earth – it’s amazing). Linda read an incredibly moving account of a Deer Dance that she had attended, in fact the whole session was moving, and powerful. This was not the usual ho-hum academic bull, but four powerful advocates of the animate earth, four representatives of the myriads of the others with whom we are interdependent.

Mr J did a better job than I could have of reporting what happened. I was too involved in the moment to be able to remember very well! What I do recall was that an hour of spirited, sometimes edgy, discussion ensued, which everyone (including me) appeared to enjoy a great deal.

After the session a woman came up to me and thanked me for the tree story. “It helped me remember what is inside me too,” she said. “I will remember it always.” So of course I teared up too to hear that someone had been so moved. She alone made the whole trip worthwhile.

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6 Responses to Animism in the academy

  1. Will you be repeating (please) your tree story here on the blog for all of us to enjoy (…or have I missed it and it is already recorded on the blog elsewhere)?

  2. Glen says:July 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    This is wonderful. I think it is very important to have animists, such as you, in academia. To me, from a student and animist, the higher education system seems to be heavily entrenched in old colonial ways of thinking and is a difficult balancing act for me personally. However, I feel motivated and inspired towards academia at the same time. Thanks for sharing your stories with people. I find it is stories that express this way of life the best, myself (this is why I am studying creative writing).

  3. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments! Grasshoppa, you can find the birch tree story under “Being known by a birch tree,” currently #2 (but fast closing in on #1) in the Popular Posts. Glen, one of the questions that was raised during the discussion was, Why work in academia? My own answer is, Because the academy is still teaching the ways of perceiving that are contributing to our ecological crisis. Also because academic work suits me–well, at least part-time. The rest of my time I too devote to creative writing. I share your conviction that stories best express animism–because animism is about relationships, and it takes stories, not abstract principles, to communicate relationships. The medium needs to match the message, yes?

  4. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 31, 2009 at 10:49 am

    The birch tree story sailed into first place in the popular posts this week–just about the time I was writing the previous comment. You can always find the story here: “Being known by a birch tree.”

  5. sharman russell says:August 4, 2009 at 8:33 am

    What a wonderful website! I’m excited to have discovered this.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:August 14, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks, Sharman, I’m enjoying your book My Life as a Pantheist right now.