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November 27th, 2017

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “Spirit/Medium/Media: A Critical Examination of the Relationship Between Animism, Animators, and Anime” by Jolyon Thomas (University of Pennsylvania)
    This talk critiques the oft-repeated argument that Japanese animation (anime) is thematically and aesthetically unique because it draws upon Japan’s ancient animistic traditions. I argue that when professional observers describe anime as “animistic,” they use a politically fraught and technically inaccurate term to engage in certain political projects related to environmentalism or cultural nationalism. I also argue that when these professional observers repeat the essentialist idea that “Japanese people believe that spirits exist in everything,” they categorically ignore the potentially “spiritual” qualities of the material objects that are actually used to make anime in the first place (celluloid, ink, computer screens, cameras, cables). I conclude by offering alternative language that can more accurately depict what anime directors and their audiences do when depicting or observing relationships between spirits and nature in animated film. These attitudes and ideas can be deemed meaningful and even religious, I argue, without relying on the loaded language of “animism.”

November 27, 2017
3:30 pm:   
Spirit/Medium/Media
A Critical Examination of the Relationship between Animism, Animators, and Anime 

Jolyon Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research covers two main areas of inquiry, both of which sketch approaches to the perennially unanswerable question of how to define religion. On the one hand, he writes about religion in conjunction with material and visual culture, examining the religious lives of illustrated media (comic books and cartoons) and quotidian objects (trains, televisions, USB sticks, plastic figurines). On the other, he works on the place of religion in policy and law. Current projects investigate who gets to define religious freedom and with what political effects, how conceptions of “religion” and “the secular” appear in debates about morality, patriotism, and security in public school education in postwar Japan and the United States, and what sort of relationships exist between religion, capitalism, and sexuality.

Religious Studies

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