This seminar provides an intellectual space to foreground relations, dynamics, and critiques among religion, energy, and extraction. For scholars in a variety of humanistic and social scientific disciplines, extractivism provides a conceptual rubric through which to re-conjoin analyses of racialization and exploitation with concerns about ecology and sustainability. This is particularly the case in the environmental and energy humanities. In light of multidisciplinary scholarly discourses on extractivism, this seminar aims to conscientiously link social and ecological justice questions as a matter of theoretical and methodological rigor; to explicitly and directly attend to racial capitalism and coloniality as constitutive of environmental crises; to facilitate and improve dialogue between religion scholars and the environmental humanities, focusing attention on the religious dimensions of energy intensive and extractive cultures; and engage in reflexive analyses of the study and constructions of religion in, with, and through cultures of energy and extractivism.
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Energy, Extraction, and Religion Seminar
Call for Proposals for November Meeting
We invite proposals around two themes: Slippage, flow, and water/oceanic extraction & the fetish
Slippage, flow, oceanic extraction, water extraction
In As Long As the Grass Grows, Dina Gilio-Whitaker discusses the fraught relationships between (white) environmentalisms and Indigenous water protectors, tracing slippages and incongruences between the discursive frames of conventional environmental ethics, Indigenous sovereignty, and environmental justice. Relatedly, Max Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism shows how the scientific frameworks developed to understand “pollution” are grounded in the idea that water and land are endowed with an innate capacity to absorb the violence of settler chemical effluents. In relation to land and water, extractivist/colonial systems of knowledge are like oil and water. Recognizing the coastal location of the 2024 AAR Annual Meeting, and following Gilo-Whitaker and Liboiron, we invite papers on water and extractivism, especially those that attend to slippages and flows between culturally particular epistemologies, ontologies, and ethics of water.
We welcome paper proposals that consider the confluences of religion/theology with the blue humanities, seafloor mining, or the exploitation of fisheries. In keeping with the annual meeting theme, we especially invite proposals that reflect on violence, non-violence, and marginality in aqueous extractive zones. Though oceanic topics will be front of mind–in a conference center mere kilometers from the second largest US naval base and an influential institution of oceanography with a military history– extractivism involves freshwater, too, including water privatization, aquifer depletion, and the impact of mining and industrial agriculture on the substance most fundamental to life itself.
While Marx's theory of the commodity fetish is frequently cited by scholars of mining and extractivism, the term “fetish” originated in the 16th century when Portuguese merchants sought to describe the purported misvaluation of material goods by West African peoples they encountered. In addition to playing a key role in economic discourses, the fetish also played an important part in the beginning of modern religious studies. In contrast to the Portuguese merchants who associated the fetish with a kind of witchcraft, EB Tylor’s Primitive Culture theorized the fetish in terms of animism and framed it as a less developed form of religion on a scale ranging from primitive to fully developed monotheism. The fetish, then, is a conceptual tool that humanists and social scientists deployed for racialization in colonial systems of knowing and classifying “religion.” That fossil fuels and precious metals are ‘fetishized’ commodities is an irony that has not escaped energy and extraction humanities scholars (e.g. Huber 2013, Malm 2017, Szeman 2023). But with regard to the fetish, commodity fetishism, and the binding together of matter and value, scholars of religion and theology have insight to contribute to transdisciplinary conversations on this topic.
We invite papers critically engaging the employment of the fetish in energy and extraction humanities. What modes of discourse and material practice in extractive zones are obscured in discourses of the Enlightenment fetish? What violence is incited, justified, or undermined? What might be illuminated by employment of the fetish more broadly? In what ways does the study of religion help attend more closely to modes of racialization in extractive zones following the wake of the fetish?
Call for Proposals for Online June Meeting
In the third year of our seminar we would like to focus on interdisciplinary conversations and connections. Specifically, what insights do discourses like energy/extraction humanities or petroculture studies bring to the study of religion? Conversely, what do religion and theological studies bring to these discourses and modes of analysis that have been generally overlooked? How can connections between religious / theological studies and other areas of environmental humanities be approached as opportunities for exchange and mutual benefit, rather than extractive transaction?
With this overarching theme in mind, our June online session will focus on conversations around key energy/extraction humanities texts. The session will include breakout room discussions, each focused on a different text that will be distributed prior to the meeting for pre-reading. Presiders will introduce texts and lead discussions, summarizing insights when breakout groups reconvene.
We invite proposals of key texts that would be generative for the Energy, Extractivism, and Religion Seminar. Proposals might include:
- a text with important insights for religion scholars to build from, like a key text for energy humanities discourses;
- a commonly cited text within energy humanities/petroculture studies that needs the critical engagement of religion scholars;
- a text from religious studies or theology that is fecund for energy/environmental humanities.
Because proposed texts will be distributed to participants before the session, they should be digitally accessible (the seminar steering committee can assist with this) and relatively brief (e.g. a chapter or journal article of ~ 20-30 pgs.).
In the proposal, explain what the text is and why you think religion scholars should know of and engage this text; and
why you are the person to give some informed framing of the text and lead constructive discussion of it.
Proposer names are visible to chairs and steering committee members at all times
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Judith Ellen Brunton, Harvard University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
J. Kameron Carter, Indiana University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Lisa Sideris, University of California, Santa Barbara1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Christiana Zenner, Fordham University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027