Chhhhiiii-cago 2013: American Anthropological Association

Summer is coming to an end, and in the midst of dissertation writing, postdoc applying, and graduate student teaching, begins the fall conference season. This year, I decided against the old-school format of call-and-no-response. Instead, I organized a roundtable.

Together with Kim Tallbear, Sarah Bakker Kellogg, Brian Anderson, Heather Mellquist, Gaymon Bennett, Sarah Wagner, and Meira Weiss, the roundtable aims to jump start a conversation on the role belief systems play in science and medicine politics.

Although there will be no bonfire parties a-la-4S-conference-style, I’m looking forward to generating some discussion on secularism in science and medicine today. What else are you going to be doing on a Friday night anyway? See you there, marshmallows in hand.

“Secular and Sacred Technologies,” roundtable

American Anthropological Association, annual meeting

Friday, November 22, 2013 4pm

Chicago, IL


Chicago! (From

“Sacred & Secular Technologies” 

Our belief systems and scientific networks co-constitute one another, promoting a curious interdependency and practical ethics between what we believe and what happens in our world. Spirits, dogmas, and religious thought contribute to how we understand science, technology, and medicine, generating knowledge and innovatively shaping the politics of where we live. How are personal and collective doctrines and practices an effective technology in nation-building politics, particularly in the field of science and medicine? What role does sacredness and secularism play in science and medicine politics?
This roundtable aims to provoke a conversation on how various thought or belief systems, including organized religion, spirituality, and metaphysics, are instrumental in nation-building projects. Going beyond a dichotomy of “modern” political goals and “traditional” religious ones, the roundtable will open up a discussion of where beliefs collide or harmonize in various secular sacred domains with an emphasis in the area of science, technology, and medicine.
  • For example, how does what Vine Deloria, Jr. has called an “American Indian metaphysics” sometimes articulate with and sometimes challenge scientific ways of apprehending the natural world?
  • What happens when evidence-based medicine is imposed on therapeutic settings like Alcoholics Anonymous where “evidence” for treatment decisions is grounded in forms of spiritual, and often painful, “experience”?
  • How have scientific advances in the delivery of force and the care and control of bodies–living and dead–shaped the sacred domain of the military in the United States?
  • How are communities and politics articulated through religious practice as churches leverage technologies to create transnational spaces of worship?
  • What new objects of sacrifice have the demands of its military-industrial complex placed at the altar of the nation-state?
  • How is it that one of the  main organized religions of Israel, Judaism, is both contrary to and combined with the process of the fallen Israeli soldiers’ scientific identification?
  • How have religious responses to contemporary bioengineering unsettled the terms of secular liberalism?

In exploring the application of sacredness and secularism to science and medicine politics, the roundtable aims to create a dynamic dialogue on the power of belief in nation building as well as touch on larger theoretical and methodological debates in anthropology, such as the role of science in anthropology and the ethnographic positionality of the anthropologist and how it effects our research. This session will be organized as a roundtable. Each of the presenters will make a short 5-7 minute presentation, followed by an open discussion. The roundtable will also explore how STS and medical anthropology can contribute to this ongoing debate in innovative and constructive ways.

[Keywords: sacredness, secularism, nation-building politics, science, technology, medicine]

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