Amended animation: negotiating with the 'more-than-human' topographies of belief systems as a platform to approach climate change in the Himalayas

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Across the Himalayan region (predominantly, although not exclusively, within culturally Buddhist areas), there exists a shared outlook that the landscape is animated by a pantheon of sentient supernatural beings. This animated landscape is integrally linked to human actions through the notion of a 'moral climate' - the idea that the provocation of landscape deities by humans engenders retaliation in the form of crop failure, hail and/or unfavourable weather. These convictions have decisively framed indigenous environmental knowledges, and often persist (and coexist) even when imported "scientific/materialistic" knowledge systems are acknowledged within the general population. The Himalayan region is extremely vulnerable to imminent and ongoing climatic changes; under this backdrop, perceptions and belief systems which undergird frameworks for environmental action may attain heightened significance. This project seeks to gain a clearer understanding of the indigenous worldview concerning the perceived sentience of the physical environment, and its imputed connection with human behaviour, and questions how these views might inflect perceptions of - and actions taken towards - a changing climate.

The research asks, firstly, how a shared belief in a 'sentient' or 'more-than-human' landscape can inform perceptions of threats, opportunities, or actions taken towards climate change (which may include historical climate change). Secondly, I will consider if this worldview encourages practical action, fatalism or passivity [which includes a sole recourse to ritual and prayer] towards climate change. This may impart useful information on indigenous efforts towards climate change mitigation, which could be applied elsewhere. Finally, the role geopolitical structures and sensitivities across this region will be considered: namely, how they might inhibit or enhance how the relationship between humans and a 'more-than-human' landscape is expressed, and thus what actions might be taken towards climate change mitigation on this basis. Future pathways for climate change are inherently connected with local people's preferences and decision-making, which are often situated in traditional and indigenous knowledge systems; as such, these findings may prove significant to pitching future climate policies and interventions. A specific field site for this project has yet to be finalised, but is likely to fall within Northern India, Nepal, or Bhutan.

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