Anthropology, animism and animation: reflections on life, death and Christianity

Anthropology’s recent re-engagement with animism via ontology has been built on problematising and sometimes collapsing the discipline’s central binaries – nature/culture; material/immaterial etc. These arguments have focused less, though, on the central binary of life and death. The original anthropological arguments revolved around the question of life and death – inasmuch as they were arguments about soul, or anima. This paper considers the possible implications of a return to life and death, through an exploration of the animation of representations of the most important death within Christianity – Christ’s crucifixion. It examines three examples of crucifixal animation: in Maltese devotion to a crucifix dating from the seventeenth century, that has miraculous powers, and is periodically paraded in Holy Week ritual; in Late Medieval/Early Modern ritual in various parts of Europe, which used poseable, articulated models of Christ that often also had hydraulic systems built in them to make Christ ‘bleed’ whilst on the cross; and in the Holy Week ritual of the Philippines, in which young men themselves enact the crucifixion. The paper examines these different gradations, or different stages, of animation, suggesting that their ritual effectiveness – and their ability to capture life and death – lies in people’s bodily and sensory engagement with statues and images of the crucifixion.


VMMA-Pitt Rivers Museum Lunchtime Lectures Hilary 2020

Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre (off Robinson Close)

Fridays at 1pm (Weeks 1-8)

Convened by Elizabeth Hallam and Christopher Morton