Aquatic Powers: Divine Animals of the Asia-Pacific

Call for abstracts

International Conference "Aquatic Powers: Divine Animals of the Asia-Pacific"

University of Oslo

From the Himalayan glaciers to the expanses of the Indian and Pacific oceans, Asia is intersected and connected by waterways. Riverine and maritime trade networks have long enabled cultural and economic exchange between different parts of the Asian continent and the larger Pacific region. Countless human and non-human animals depend upon the Himalayas and the plains and deltas of rivers like the Mekong, Yangtze, and Ganges for survival. Myriad others live along continental and island coasts and depend upon the sea. Asia-Pacific societies and ecologies are shaped by the glaciers, rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, and oceans that connect them. To many people, these waters are sacred—as are the creatures that inhabit and protect them.

Three whale statues
Three sacred whales (Cá Ông) at a temple in southern Vietnam. Photo: Aike Rots

The sacred waterways of continental Asia and the maritime Asia-Pacific region are home to a variety of divine animals. People worship albatrosses, catfish, cranes, crocodiles, dolphins, dragons, dugongs, nagas, octopuses, orcas, rays, sharks, squid, turtles, whales, and other animals. These animals are divine messengers, incarnations of ancestral spirits, and the embodiments of gods. They are divine agents who affect human lives and are central to numerous Asian and Pacific cosmologies and ritual traditions. But they are also threatened: by habitat loss, climate change, overfishing, river dams, and pollution. What happens to more-than-human spiritual ecologies when divine animals die out? What new meanings do these sacred creatures acquire in a time of mass extinction, ecological breakdown, disenchantment, and religious transformations?

For this conference, we invite scholars working on one or more Asian and/or Pacific traditions to share their research on divine aquatic animals. We welcome historians, scholars of religion, anthropologists, geographers, political ecologists, Indigenous studies scholars, environmental scientists, biologists, philosophers, and everybody else who feels affinity with and has done research on this topic. The conference will have an interdisciplinary, exploratory, and small-scale character. We welcome applications by scholars in all stages of their academic careers, from all parts of the world.

Applicants are requested to submit a short paper abstract (max. 500 words) and CV (max. 2 pages) by 10 October 2021. Participants will be invited to Oslo; travel costs (economy class return trip), hotel accommodation (3-4 nights), and if necessary visa costs will be covered by the organisers. We aim for a physical, in-person conference, but those who do not have the opportunity to travel to Oslo can attend digitally (but please note that the conference will take place in the morning and afternoon of time zone CET).

Selected conference participants will be asked to contribute a chapter to a book on this topic in the autumn of 2022. The volume will be published by a leading academic press, and edited by Lindsey DeWitt, Florence Durney, and Aike Rots.

The conference and edited volume are part of the project Whales of Power: Aquatic Mammals, Devotional Practices, and Environmental Change in Maritime East Asia. This project is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 803211 (ERC Starting Grant 2018).

Abstracts can be sent to the project PI, Dr. Aike P. Rots, If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Published Aug. 7, 2021 10:36 PM - Last modified Aug. 7, 2021 10:56 PM