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Mayanthi Fernando


Weatherhead Fellow
Affiliation at time of award:
Associate Professor
Department. of Anthropology
University of California – Santa Cruz

Mayanthi Fernando

SuperNatureCulture: Human-Nonhuman Entanglements Beyond the Secular

Dr. Fernando’s project brings together Islamic sciences of the unseen (‘ilm al-ghayb) and recent post-humanist anthropology to ask whether “natureculture” – a reversal of the distinction between nature and the human – is better understood as “supernatureculture.” First, it examines how as work on multispecies worlds and indigenous ontologies expands the conventional separation of nature and humanity, it also reproduces the separation between natural and supernatural by delimiting other-than-humans to phenomena previously understood as natural. Second, her project seeks to expand what counts as nature – and to blur the distinction between natural and supernatural – by using insights from Islamic traditions of ‘ilm al-ghayb to reconsider how we might think about and know non-material beings with whom many humans are also in relation.

Generous funding for this Fellowship provided by the Weatherhead Endowment.


Speaker: Mayanthi Fernando, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California – Santa Cruz, and Weatherhead Resident Scholar, SAR
Location: Eric S. Dobkin Boardroom, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM

Why are scholars more open to accepting mosquitos, mollusks, and mountains—rather than angels, djinn, and other spirits—as historical actors with whom humans are always in relation? How does secular knowledge focusing on “the real,” that which is material and visible, make it difficult to think of “the supernatural” as part of nature and culture? And how might we re-entangle the supernatural with the human and the natural? This exploratory talk examines how and why multispecies and post-humanist scholarship expands definitions of being yet restricts other-than-humans to entities that have been understood as part of “the natural.” Reading against the grain and alongside traditions like the Islamic sciences of the unseen, Mayanthi Fernando argues that recent trends in post-humanist scholarship offer epistemological horizons beyond those of secular materialism.