Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)
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Through practices such as cryonics and plans to build robotic bodies for future “consciousness transfer,” the Russian transhumanist movement has engendered competing practices of immortality as well as ontological debates over the immortal body and person. Drawing on an ethnography of these practices and plans, I explore controversies around religion and secularism within the movement as well as the growing disagreements between transhumanists and the Russian Orthodox Church. I argue that the core issues in debates over the role of religion vis-à-vis immortality derive from diverse assumptions being made about “the human,” which—from prerevolutionary esoteric futurist movements through the Soviet secularist project and into the present day—has been and remains a profoundly plastic project.
Anya Bernstein is Professor of Anthropology and the author of two award-winning books: Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia (Princeton University Press, 2019). Her current book project, tentatively titled Pleistocene Park: Extinction and Eternity in the Russian Arctic chronicles the efforts of a transnational team of scientists to “resurrect” an extinct ecosystem in Arctic Siberia. Bernstein has directed and filmed several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006).