Dr Jon Bialecki (Univ of California, San Diego), ‘The Cryonic Body as Archive: Transhumanism, Mormonism, and the Workings of the Resurrection’
Transhumanism is a social movement centered around the idea that new and near-future technologies such as cryonics, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology will so transform human capacities that we will literally overcome limitations that have been constitutive of ourselves as a species. As of late, this movement has increasingly been the object of ethnographic and anthropological attention. Two questions have animated discussions in the just-emerging anthropology of secular transhumanism. The first is whether, due to secular transhumanism's vision of human immortality through technology, the movement is best understood as a form of religion in self-denial. The second question is whether there is some ontology or framing that is particular to and constitutive of transhumanism. This talk investigates both of these questions by asking what difference an explicit religious transhumanism makes, investigating Mormon Transhumanism, a movement within Mormonism that speculates that transhumanist technologies may be how God intended some of the religion's eschatological promises to be fulfilled; these promises include the resurrection of the dead and theosis - that is, literally becoming gods. Using an expansive concept of media as infrastructure as a proxy for ontology, the talk, starting with the 19th-century origins of the religious movement and ending with contemporary Mormon Transhumanism, will lay out a genealogy of shifts in Mormon concepts of baptism for the dead and embodied resurrection. This genealogy is used to argue that the Mormon Transhumanist imagination while resonating with secular transhumanism, has contours that are particular to it that result from the historical intersection of religious speculation and evolving archival practices and technologies; in essence, the way that archival media operates in Mormon Transhumanist thought creates an effective ontology that at once rhymes with, yet is distinct from secular transhumanism, suggesting that understandings of secular transhumanism as a religion is a misapprehension.
Jon Bialecki (JD 1997, Ph.D. 2009) is a continuing lecturer in the UCSD department of anthropology; he has previously taught at Reed College and the University of Edinburgh. His first monograph, A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement (UC Press), is a study of the miraculous and differentiation in American religion, with a focus on ethics, politics, language, and economic practices; it was awarded the 2017 Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society and Honorable Mention in the 2018 Clifford Geertz Prize by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. His second book, Machines for Making Gods: Mormonism, Transhumanism, and Worlds Without End, is an account of religious transhumanism in general, and specifically of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, which is the largest and oldest religious transhumanist association in existence; it was published 2022 by Fordham University Press.
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