Being Human in An Age of Humans

The claim that the Anthropocene is a concept that belongs exclusively to the sciences has been challenged again and again by humanities scholars. Humanist scholars in a variety of disciplines are well-positioned to analyze the narrative structures and mythic cadences that often characterize Anthropocene storylines. Scholars with expertise in religion, theology, ethics, and philosophy are especially well-placed to critically consider these dimensions of Anthropocene discourse, for they are cognizant of the way in which Anthropocene narratives, despite their secular veneer, perform religious-like functions. These stories place humans into a deep-time perspective, diagnose the human condition on a grand scale—often invoking the humans as species—and prognosticate about our collective future. Anthropocene pronouncements about humans as an aggregate geological force transforming the planet may obscure as much as they reveal. Who is, or ought to be included in this aggregate “we” that is driving catastrophic global change? Does this collective vision of the human run roughshod over social and environmental justice claims, and thereby instantiate and perpetuate a colonial agenda?  Does Anthropocene discourse impose a universal temporal framework on the diverse spectrum of human cultures? How might the articulation of alternative stories and different temporal orientations enable us to envision other—perhaps better—visions of the planetary future?

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With the goal of exploring these and other questions surrounding the Anthropocene, a team of scholars consisting of Lisa Sideris (Indiana University), Celia Deane-Drummond (Notre Dame), Sarah Fredericks (University of Chicago) and Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University) launched a multi-year project titled “Being Human in the Age of Humans: Perspectives from Religion and Ethics.” Funded with a grant from Humanities Without Walls, the project aims to highlight a cluster of interrelated themes. These include: the implicitly religious/ethical structure of Anthropocene narratives; the need for counter-narratives of human agency in the Anthropocene; and the significance of Indigenous and alternative cosmologies in the Anthropocene. The essays posted here illustrate some of the thinking that has emerged from this project to date. In particular, these essays showcase the innovative work of scholars who were selected to participate in two workshops on the Anthropocene held at the University of Chicago and at Michigan State University in the fall of 2017.

We hope you enjoy these pieces and we invite you to check back for additional postings on these and other issues related the question of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene.